Can you look back and pinpoint specific events that have changed your life? Can you see where you took a sharp turn down a new path? This may have happened by choice, or because of events beyond your control.
I’ve had a few of those moments in my life. One of my favorites happened soon after I began the PhD program in History at McGill University. A wonderful woman named Katie introduced herself to me while we were working in the Teaching Assistant’s lounge. In that situation, my introversion would normally take over and I would not reach out. Yet, I made a conscious decision to do something different: I followed up on Katie’s effort to reach out to me. I am thankful I chose a different course that day and have not regretted my decision once. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without her and the amazing, supportive women I met through her.
What do these pivotal moments have to do with the writing life? I will get to that soon. First, I have a story about February 9, 2013, a day when my life changed. Yes, I can pinpoint it that precisely. Actually, I can even tell you the time. It was 9:15 AM.
My Pivotal Moment
That Saturday started better than many. I had been dealing with severe vertigo for months. But, treatment finally worked and I was ready to get back to life. I was finally working regular hours, and had decided to go to the gym that morning.
But, my dog needed a bath. I had been putting this off for 2 weeks, and had no excuses that day. So, I gave him a bath.
Sprout is just a little guy, so a bath and cleanup only take 15 minutes. Easy, right?
Not this time. No, this time, things were different. See, I decided to trim the fur around his eyes so the poor dog could see properly. I left the bathroom to get the shears. When I got back, Sprout was out of the tub and there was water everywhere.
No biggie. I got him back into the tub and turned to get a towel to mop up the floor. I can picture everything that happened next so clearly.
My foot slipped on the water, my knee dislocated, and I fell. Just like that. Fortunately, I didn’t hit my head on anything. Unfortunately, my wrist hurt. I looked at it and panicked a little because it was now shaped like a staircase.
Well, damn. Actually, my language and yelling were a lot worse than that, but I will leave that to your imagination. My son picked me up and took me to the hospital. I spent almost three days there because the only way to fix my wrist was surgery to put a steel plate on the bone. Surgery on my knee will follow in a few months.
This was one of my most profound life-changing moments.
Up until that day, I had been working at a job I no longer enjoyed. I have worked in some aspect of construction for most of my adult life. Need someone to read blueprints? Or, help you frame a house? Or put parging on your foundation? Or design your kitchen cabinets? Or maybe you need somebody to build those cabinets. I’m your girl.
The work is interesting, but as I get older it is getting harder on my body. Yet, the pay enabled me to work part-time and continue to write my dissertation for McGill. So, what choice did I have but to continue? I was unhappy and felt trapped. But, I needed the pay and the freedom that the job gave me to continue my education. So I stayed.
Until the day I gave the dog a bath. The break to my wrist was bad. It will likely never be strong enough to build cabinets again. I have also lost a lot of mobility. In my everyday life, the loss of mobility is not an issue. However, it is an issue for a construction job.
I was suddenly forced to think about
things that I had been avoiding. This was my fork in the road. I had
been traveling down the path I knew, staying within my comfort zone,
and, consequently, limiting my options. That was no longer possible.
When that road was blocked I had some tough decisions to make. I could find another familiar path or I could forge a new one. I chose the latter.
First though, the downside of this injury. I finally sent a letter to my supervisor at McGill today. Notice it took me over four months. I have to pull out of the PhD program. This is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. I feel like I am letting down my family and friends, the university that invested so much in me, my supervisor, and myself. Yet, I also know I am making the right decision.
So, where does this leave me? Fortunately, I have lots of skills to fall back on. I have worked as a bookkeeper for the construction company for 25 years, so continue to do that on a part-time basis. But this work is not my final destination. No, this simply gives me enough financial security to work on new projects – the ones that will give me the life I want.
I began my new life by setting up a freelance editing business. I’ve been editing on a casual basis for years. It turns out that I’m really good at it. And it helps that I love the work. So, turning editing into a formal business was the beginning step along this new path.
My third major step (I will get to the second step in a moment) was to begin an initiative that is in its infancy. But, this is the project that I am most excited about. My goal is to set up a program that helps native Canadian students succeed at university. My background as a treaty Dene, along with my knowledge of university life and love of mentoring will make it possible for me to provide students with the tools they need to thrive. I wish I could say that I can promise this will succeed, but it is so new that I am just not sure.
Living the Writing Life
Now the second step. As excited as I am about the program for students, it is the second step I took that is most important to me. I decided that it was time to stop hiding as a writer. I love writing. It allows me to work through many of life’s difficulties. But I have always hidden it from people. Yet, if I am to truly continue down this new path, I can’t continue to hide such an important aspect of myself.
So I began writing. I wrote some encyclopedia entries that will be published this year. I’ve started pitching to magazines and writing personal pieces that will be seen by people. I am researching a book of Canadian history and will begin writing this winter. I attended my first writing conference in April. I even write a blog. Now I call myself a writer. More on that in a future post. By the way, have you read any of Jeff Goins’ work? I highly recommend him. One of my favorites is You are a Writer So Start Acting Like One. I love that call to action. (No, I haven’t been paid to say that!)
Most importantly, I love that I have finally given myself permission to explore the writing life. You may have noticed that this blog has begun to shift from the more technical aspects of writing and editing. I will continue to examine those technical parts of writing as they are important. However, I have decided to discover what it means to be a writer. I hope you come along with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts as I move into a more personal look at what it means to be a writer and creative person.
So, that’s where giving my dog a bath led me. This new direction is somewhat terrifying, but it is also exciting.
Has there been a time in your life where you have been at that fork in the road? Would you share it in the comments section and let us know how things turned out for you?
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