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Shades of Grace

January 31, 2011

I can’t actually tell you why, but lately I have been feeling creative, hopeful, and even confident about my writing. 

To mark the occasion of my newfound confidence, and to keep me on track, I have started a new blog on another blog platform. I am blogging every day and will keep my commitment to myself to blog daily. I didn’t have that intention with my Dawn Dorothy blog, thank god.

Being Dawn Dorothy is about being my mother’s daughter, and my sister’s sister. And I love being Dawn Dorothy. In this space, I was able to start putting my words and emotions about the women in my family “out there” and although it felt very vulnerable to begin with, it feels natural now.

The new blog is a little bit more anonymous, and I plan on keeping it that way for a while yet. I hope I am on the right track. I will come back here and share the new blog address soon. For now, I am enjoying talking to myself over there.

Love, Dawn.


Twas the Night Before Christmas

December 25, 2010

Life handed me a whole heck of a lot of wonderful gifts this past year. Honestly, I don’t need to find a single thing with my name on it underneath our tree tomorrow morning. It will be a great day, for sure. But let me just get the bittersweet piece out of the way. It will come as no surprise to those who know me, or to those who have read this blog, that Christmas does find me missing my mom. For at least a few “moments” every holiday season, I experience an intense longing to have her with us for Christmas. Hearing Bing Crosby crooning White Christmas in the mall is usually what sets that particular feeling off for the season. Not unexpectedly, it happened one evening last week. Fortunately, I was able to shop the feeling away in just under an hour and just over several hundred dollars.

The other dead-mother moment usually comes on Christmas day, but generally only lasts for a few short minutes. The sad feeling will come over me all of a sudden, sometime after gifts are opened, and waffles are wolfed. I won’t wallow, but I will feel the feeling, at least until the phone rings, or one of the girls makes me laugh, or my husband does his traditional Christmas trick with the turkey and I will be distracted by needing to grab the camera. (Don’t ask.)

Honestly, other than those couple of unavoidable heart tugs, I have only gladness in my yuletide heart. As the year draws to a close, I find myself full of gratitude. This year I celebrated both my fiftieth birthday and reaching the five-year cancer free mark. I had a fabulously proud Canadian Olympics experience, and a beautiful summer at the beach. I was able to toast my father’s eightieth birthday, and visit with my baby sister for the first time in five years. I spent some quality time with my two lovely daughters on Salt Spring Island, met two nephews for the first time, and enjoyed an amazing few days playing tourist with two of our grandchildren. I got to teach my dream course and to attend my youngest daughter’s yoga classes. I had a year full of warm female friendship, and celebrated nineteen years of marriage with my dearest dude. I survived a somewhat difficult year at work, but I am ending the year happy to be employed and to have two careers on the go, both fulfilling.

Outside of the big ticket moments and blessings, there have been a lot of simple but satisfying (and then some) moments. I really have no idea how I lived without my now daily cup of creamed earl grey tea, if you haven’t tried it, you must. Another excellent reading year, more than a few good movies watched. Fresh halibut dinners all through the summer, caught and cooked by the best chef and fisherman on the island. Walking back into our crooked, little house at the end of each and every long day and knowing that there is nowhere on earth that I would rather be, than here in this time and place, with all of the lovely amazing people in my life. I refer here both to people in person and in cyber space. How did I live without Facebook, that silly place where bantering with far-away cousins and long-lost friends is such a rich part of my evening routine? Say what you will about social media, it has done wonders for my family network. We even seem less dysfunctional in cyberspace. (Well, some of us.)

Rather than risk an unscheduled tearful holiday episode, let me just close now and wish you all a very merry whatever your family calls this time of year. Absent loved ones aside, I am sure that our family holiday time will be…simply perfect. I really hope yours is too.

Cancer, Money and Me

October 15, 2010
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In June 2005, I was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. Financially, the timing could not have been much worse. When I got sick, I had just completed thirteen years of university, culminating with a PhD in health care history and policy, and a huge student loan. My husband Allan had sold his auto body business a year earlier (with no real profit from the sale) and had been laid off from his most recent job. We were, quite literally, in the middle of an expensive move from Beaumont, Alberta to Victoria, BC– Allan had driven our belongings across the Rockies the very weekend I ended up in emergency surgery. Our house was on the market and sold eventually but for very little profit as we closed the deal about five minutes before the Alberta real estate market went wild. I had a job lined up at the University of Victoria for later in the year, but having cancer was clearly going to limit how much teaching I could take on. As financial uncertainty grew in the days following my diagnosis, so too did our resolve. Cancer was not going to screw with our plans, and after all, we told ourselves, we had great credit, should we need it. From my hospital room in Edmonton, we made the decision to go ahead with our move, and several weeks later Allan and I travelled to our new life and our newly rented apartment in Victoria.

Although we had a great deal of fear, we were still eager to begin the great adventure that we had dreamed about for over a decade. Emotionally, given the circumstances, it was heartbreaking to say goodbye to our two daughters and son, all single, young adults who were remaining in Alberta. Practically, we were concerned about having enough money, and worried about not having support, as we didn’t know anybody in Victoria at the time. We needn’t have worried about the latter, as every effort we made to reach out to make new friends was rewarded threefold. Physically, I was able to get through the ten months of chemotherapy quite well, to the amazement of my oncologist. Overall, despite the obvious fact of cancer, our first year in Victoria was one of the best years of our life.

It was also one of the most expensive. Before cancer, the plan had been for Allan to finally work less and fish more, while I started my teaching career. We had budgeted for Allan to remain unemployed for at least the first year of the rest of our wonderful life. My chemotherapy treatments were time consuming and severely limited the amount of teaching that I could do in that first year. Fortunately, Allan was eligible for unemployment insurance, we had a bit of money from the house sale, and as a cushion so that I wouldn’t need to worry about money at the same time that I was worried about dying, we cashed in one of Allan’s RRSPs. If we had lived carefully and frugally, our financial situation might have remained relatively healthy for that year.

But we didn’t. Just in case it should turn out to be true, we lived each day as if there were no tomorrow. Unfortunately, over time that approach caused us to rely more heavily upon credit, than cash. As often as we pleased, we ate out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We flew our kids out to Victoria multiple times, and entertained other company from Alberta and elsewhere throughout the summer and fall. We served gourmet meals to our guests, and Allan took people fishing four or more times a week that summer, an expensive undertaking with gas prices at an all time high. While Allan fished, I shopped. I bought everything I thought we needed for the new apartment, including new furniture, and a lot of things that we didn’t need. On some days, I simply felt that having cancer entitled me to have that one year of living frivolously. 

Irresponsible spending aside, not knowing how things would turn out that year also led us to appreciate every moment spent with family and friends, and to celebrate every experience in our new life. We truly felt that we had arrived in paradise, and we knew with complete certainty that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives here. When my oncologist told me in early summer 2006 that I was cancer free, I wept with gratitude. And yet, I was – quite frankly –surprised that I had apparently beaten cancer. There has been a lot of cancer in my family over the past decade, but not a lot of survivors. Elated as I was to learn that I would live, my recently concocted idea that my life insurance would take care of any accumulated cancer debt, had clearly backfired.

Over the past few years, I have reflected often upon the lessons that cancer taught me about life and money. I remain cancer free, and am working diligently towards being debt free. I still teach university part-time, and I also work full-time as an executive in the public service. Allan still loves fishing on weekends, but he has a full-time job building and repairing boats. We bought a lovely house, with a rental suite downstairs that will bring in revenue when our youngest daughter (both daughters followed us here from Alberta) moves out next year. We make a very healthy living, and are more conscious and aware of our spending. We have reduced expenses and try really hard to live on cash, not credit. To be honest, we still have some work to do on sticking to our budget. But as we all know, all relationships take continued work. The key to my relationship with money, I have found, is that I need to take responsibility for my part, become and remain aware of my money management shortcomings, and be willing to work on what needs fixing.

Although it is an old cliché, what having cancer actually taught me during what I thought might be the last year of my life, was that money does not buy happiness. I used over spending as a strategy to avoid fear, but money did not buy me the true moments of joy that I experienced that year, nor will it buy what I most cherish today. Relationships with loved ones, and my relationship with myself, are what matter most in my life today. Spending time with my cherished friends, reading a good (library) book, enjoying a (home cooked) meal with Allan and my family, or hosting a (potluck) barbeque in our yard, these are the simple moments that fill me up like no purchase has yet or ever could. Today is a spending free day. Sitting here on a pile of driftwood, pondering and then scribbling down these words has cost me nothing, but it has been an excellent investment of my time. It reminds me to be grateful that I am still here, still living this rich and amazing life.

School Starts on Wednesday

September 5, 2010

I get to teach my dream course!

If You Visit My Blog

September 3, 2010

I would love it if you leave a comment…

I Need a New Secret

August 28, 2010

Trusting my intution when it comes to freakish coincidences (see previous post) is one thing. Trying to interpret when something is really just a freakish coincidence and perhaps not a profound message from the universe is something entirely different.

I spent the past few hours writing up the previous post because I was moved to do so by the events that inspired the post in the first place. All of what I say happened, all of my feelings as written are true, nothing altered.

Within two minutes of having finished said post, my phone rang. It was CineVic, the organization co-sponsoring the workshop that I was so flipping excited about attending on August 28th.


Today is the 28th of August. Not next Saturday. The workshop is today. It started at about the same time that I was registering to attend it next week.

I am devastated. And yet also slightly amused.

I thought about deleting the words that I had written, and not posting anything at all. I guess I am okay with having you read it, it exposes my humanness. Although I am not usually quite as bad as this, with dates. 

So, about that novel…

I Have a Secret

August 28, 2010

I just signed up for a screenwriting workshop that is being held next Saturday. Impulsive, yes – but it feels right. If there is one lesson that I continue to learn well in this lifetime, it’s that I really can trust my intuition.

I have been struggling for too long with not knowing how to move forward with a major writing project. The story is well formed, the format still a question. Is it a novel? Or is it a screenplay? Maybe it’s a stage play. I only know that it isn’t a memoir anymore, although I have a lot of memoir writing in me, too. Maybe it is both a novel and a screenplay. But what to do first?

Thursday night I was still inclined to believe, as I had for months, that it was a novel. On Wednesday night I had joined SheWrites.Com, something that I had been putting off for as many months. I registered, and responded to somebody else’s post, a writer who had blogged about grief. Her posting resonated with me, which won’t surprise anybody who has read my blog. (Although it might surprise them to learn that my writing project is not really very much about death.)

SheWrites is a very exciting but somewhat overwhelming site. It has over 10,000 members, women writers from across the world, seeking like-minded writing women. When I signed back on to the site on Thursday evening, I had an invitation from one of the site moderators  to join a  discussion group on the site called Novelists, Struggling or Not. I think it is intended for people who are struggling with a novel, not so much for those of us struggling to figure out if we are novelists. Although it may be the same struggle? But I digress. The invitation to join the novelists group was from a SheWriter named Meg Waite Clayton. The name seemed familiar, and I soon realized why. Meg is the author of the novel that I started reading last weekend, the same book that has laid untouched on my bedside table all week. Perhaps just a freakish coincidence. Perhaps not.

Fast forward to Friday morning. About half way through the most amazing ninety-minute therapeutic massage of my life, motion picture scenes, scenes with my characters acting out my story, just started playing beneath my eyelids. I wasn’t thinking the scenes, exactly – I saw them unfold, and felt the truth of them. That sounds weird. I suppose I must have been thinking them too. I tend to think that thinking is work, and whatever was happening on that table didn’t feel like work. It felt like an awakening.  

When I left the massage therapist’s studio, work beckoned. I checked my Blackberry and saw ten new work emails, and one from a dear friend. Jayn has been gently nudging me this past year to transform my passion for creative writing into my livelihood. She knows that the two careers that I have underway already amount to a 60 to 70 hour work week but she also knows me well enough to know that I have energy for one more career, as long as it involves writing what I long to write.

Jayn’s email was about an eWomen Network event scheduled to be held in our city three weeks from now.  Maryanne Pope, described as “an inspirational speaker,” will be speaking on “waking up to your dreams, transforming passion into pay cheques.”

I may attend Maryanne’s speaking event, to learn more about how she figured out (because she has) how grief could inspire her to become an author of creative fiction (her husband died, and it compelled her to write a book) as well as a CEO of her own film production company. I don’t feel like I need any more inspiration to get going, however. My dream is awake. The screenwriting workshop will be a great first step to see which route the dream should follow next.