Six Weeks of Birthday and Chance Encounters

My six weeks of birthday celebrations (turned into seven!) are nearing their end, but hopefully the serendipitous chance encounters I am also experiencing lately are not. And I am having lot of fun with both. These and other life, job and health goings-on are more or less connected with my book writing endeavour—and they certainly keep me sufficiently busy to not be also writing about them more regularly in my story posts. Some I now recount in this post, and others will perhaps be shared in future posts or will form more content for my book.

What is the story behind the six weeks of birthday, I have been asked a few times? Usually, I “just” celebrate birthday month, but the idea behind both is to make the birthday target big enough so that my birthday wishes are never early and never belated, and by making my birthday celebrations virtually impossible to miss, everyone can just feel good about my birthday!

BIrthday Potluck Mexican Dinner

BIrthday Potluck Mexican Dinner

This year, my birthday celebrations begin mid-February with a potluck Mexican dinner prepared with a couple of friends, in commemoration of the Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad, from which I had just returned.

We feast on spicy tomato and avocado guacamole and sweet corn and black bean salad as appetiser. For the main course, we enjoy corn tortillas filled with deeply green spinach and cilantro rice, sweet peppers stir fry, grated cheese and sour cream (Americanised Mexican food variation). Dessert turns out to be extra-rum flambé bananas. It truly is a feast for all senses!

Birthday Thai Dinner Fit for a Queen

Birthday Thai Dinner Fit for a Queen

For another birthday celebration, a friend treats me like a queen, allowing me to assume my position in a strategically placed arm chair—which feels more like a throne—while she prepares for me a Thai curry dinner and showers me with the most thoughtful gifts of two kinds of dark chocolate, red French wine, handmade porcelain clay dish, and a hand crafted Pisces-themed birthday card. Not being one for accepting or giving material presents, I delight at my friend’s thoughtfulness on this occasion. During the evening we also enjoy a brisk walk down to the Fraser River to whet our appetites.

On my actual birthday day, I invite a friend and prepare a French Charcuterie Board dish, in commemoration of the Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice, from which I had returned earlier in the year.

On another evening, two friends join me for an adventurous experience of dining in complete darkness at the Dark Table restaurant. The experience is designed to emulate performing all but one activity without the sense of vision, allowing a new perception of reality, where the senses of touch, taste, hearing and smell are intensified. I experience a temporary sensation of vertigo when I sit down, before I regain my sense of balance through the sense of touch by feeling my way to what is vertical (the wall beside me) and what is horizontal (the table in front of me). I also find that it is my sense of hearing rather than taste that is the most intensified. I complete my experience of walking in other people’s shoes by taking a trip to the washroom, where I need to be lead by a visually impaired waiter, much more skilled at finding their way without seeing with their eyes than me—and I redouble my gratefulness for my sight when I reach the toilets, which are fortunately, for me, fully lit. No meal pictures from this experience as they would have been rather dull without an infrared feature on my camera.

A steady supply of wine and tea with various friends nearby, as well as wishes and gift packages from friends abroad, see me through to the end of March.

Why would anyone ever stop celebrating their birthday just because they don’t like the number attributed to a particular year’s festivities?!

I continue my education on the book production process and industry by attending a self-publishing fair, once again organised at the Vancouver Public Library. There, I meet and listen to an apparently successful self-published author, Martin Crosbie, who very generously shares his discoveries of strategies to dramatically increase his books’ sales on Amazon. It is a little too early in the process for me to apply any of his findings, although it is encouraging to know that Amazon is not such a book selling mystery after all.

The Writer's Workplace at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

The Writer’s Workplace at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

I also partake in an in-town, 1-day Writing Retreat, organized as part of the Just Write Vancouver Meetup group. I am grateful for the chance and for giving myself permission to dedicate this day to writing, which I rather enjoy, but sometimes—with a lot of other life going on—I find it a challenge to get to. I have a chance to network with other writers, sharing writing craft and industry tips over refreshment breaks and a healthful, delicious, seasonal, mainly local and organic lunch at Tractor Foods restaurant.

Keeping up my French ameliorations is one of the many activities competing for my time, attention, and sense of enjoyment—I really do enjoy learning and using this fabulous and romantic language. One evening, I go with a friend—with a similar passion for French—to see the movie entitled “Gare du Nord”. This movie is naturally quite artistic (i.e., a little confusing), and incredibly well done. It tells a story of the people, the ghosts, and the people who feel or are made to feel like ghosts, whose lives intersect at this Parisian jewel of a cross-roads that is Gare du Nord. On another evening, I head to a Vancouver French Meetup event for some conversational practice after work, only to find myself crashing a retirement party for a Federal Government colleague and serendipitously connecting with a Francophone acquaintance, with whom I parler en français for a good 45 minutes.

The Writer's Garden Cottage at Xenia Retreat Centre

The Writer’s Garden Cottage at Xenia Retreat Centre

My serendipitous encounters also take me on a search for the Celestine Prophecy book—which fortuitously is about apparent coincidences, their meanings, and possible ways of living life if one chooses to follow the path that these reveal.

This, in turn, leads me to finding my amazing, past yoga teacher, and to partaking in the Ocean Breath yoga retreat, which she leads the following month on Bowen Island near Vancouver. This turns out to be precisely the relaxing, meditative, peaceful, and insightful weekend getaway that I crave at the point that it takes place. I stay in this amazing little Garden Cottage that reminds me that “Everyday is a Gift”.

The Writer at Her Garden Cottage

The Writer at Her Garden Cottage

Between some relaxing and some invigorating yoga sessions; fantastic and healthy meals with inspiring conversations; nature walks that include a visit with Opa—the 1000 year old cedar—a walk around a secluded lake through a forest, and a walking meditation at a rock labyrinth: I spend time at my little cottage writing through my thoughts and working on my book, as I am kept company by a pretty pewter ferry and a friendly pewter humming bird in the windows.

Opa - The 1000 Year Old Cedar

Opa – The 1000 Year Old Cedar

I experience a new for me sensation while hovering my left hand over a round of white crystals—the air between the underside of my hand and the crystals feels cold, but only with my left hand. On the other hand, the air feels the same temperature below and above my hand when I try this with my right hand. I am not sure what, if anything, this tries to tell me.

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Xenia

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Xenia

My healing energies are invigorated by a resident energy healer and a couple of sociable sessions in a wood burning sauna. Having recently read another kindred spirit’s mantra about “When cloudy pool of water settles, it becomes clear”, I make it my intention for the retreat weekend. Though clarity does not fully crystallise just then, my time and encounters at Xenia make space for my spirit to breathe and calm my mind and body.

Back at home in Vancouver, I continue to inspire my senses with Special Dishes for the Week that include Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa and Red Lentil Dhal with Smoked Paprika Eggplant.

What a delicious six weeks of birthday this has been!

Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad

I spend a week mid-January adjusting to the time change and unpacking from my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice while also packing for my month’s-end Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad, in sunny and warm Mexico. Somehow I feel more balanced in my emotionally draining writing, which demands the re-living and re-digesting of painful thoughts and memories, when I am living more intensely in the present as well. Writing in less familiar and differently inspirational surroundings feels like more intense living. It keeps me motivated to write, and to live.

The Writer's Beach and Patio Workspaces / Sunrise Rooftop Artist Date

The Writer’s Beach and Patio Workspaces / Sunrise Rooftop Artist Date

This organised group writing retreat offers outdoor morning, nearly “hot yoga” classes, followed by writing classes and personalised coaching. Being instructed in the mechanics of storytelling is perhaps useful in the long-run; however, it reminds me too much of high school English class—and I was not a big fan of it then either. I park the information for future reference, but at this stage, I choose to concentrate on discovering where the organic telling of my story takes me. However, inspired by some feedback to a short piece of my writing, and supported with some clarifying instruction, I find that the piece I am working on during this retreat possibly lends itself to applying the technique of “showing”—through a dialogue between the characters—over the descriptive and explanatory “telling” technique that I, thus far, predominantly apply in my storytelling. It goes quite well.

Fellow Retreating Writers (and Food Lovers)

Fellow Retreating Writers (and Food Lovers)

This interesting experience also allows me to reflect on the notion of re-writes. I can see that my dialogue form will need a second look, at least to make it sound more like speaking than the complete sentences I currently have my characters expressing. No one speaks in complete sentences. All manner of speech is indeed imperfect. Spurred in part by this experience, I realise that my view of editorial re-writes of my story is evolving: I am more open to the idea that I will not get my story down perfectly the first time and that drafts will be necessary. I realise that this will be necessary, not only to improve the writing, but also in order to get it written at all. Aiming for perfection, particularly in one-go, tends to be paralysing.

The Writer's Apartment Workspace

The Writer’s Apartment Workspace

Sometimes writing from my apartment, sometimes from the apartment’s rooftop, other times from oceanfront drink bars and restaurants, I look for opportunities to be inspired in an Artist Date kind of way. I am rewarded with at least two.

After one mid-day writing session, I take a short walk to the end of my street, to peruse the world-renowned, tiny hovel: Beer Bob’s Book Exchange, where I find several (book) gems. On my way back to my writing task, seeing my initial carved in ficus-tree in the street prompts me to take notice of an elderly woman on a second-story balcony. She is painting, clearly for the sake of pure enjoyment, not knowing her activity is being observed and is inspiring another person. I take a leaf from this tree of worldly wisdom for my book endeavour.

Book Exchange and Painter Encounter Artist Date

Book Exchange and Painter Encounter Artist Date

My second Artist Date reveals itself during my rooftop smoothie breakfast and writing session at sunrise. I notice the dew beaded across the table to keep me company, thinking myself alone. I take a picture of this one of nature’s beauties, and only when I look at the dew through the lens of my camera do I notice that I am joined for breakfast by a tiny red creature sipping from a dew drop. In that moment I am reminded that sometimes much is revealed when one changes the lens from which one looks at the world.

Mexican Delicacies

Mexican Delicacies

My evening meals, and some of my mid-day ones, too, I spend in the company of my fellow retreating writers. And the food is amazing: delicious, (mostly!) healthy, and oh, so colourful. I simply cannot get enough! My favourites become guacamole and salsa with corn chips, chased with a lemon laced Corona cerveza, particularly on a warm oceanfront patio, shared with my new friends.

Homemade Mexican Breakfast in Vancouver

Homemade Mexican Breakfast in Vancouver

Upon my return home, I keep the memories of being warm and of eating delicious Mexican dishes fueled by keeping my apartment warmer and by reproducing the luscious guacamole, salsa and taco experience from my trip.

In my French class later in the week, I share a short homework assignment that uses French vocabulary for “offering, accepting, and refusing”. Mine turns out to be a poetic piece, entitled Les offres de la vie” (“Offers from Life”), which I come up with while lounging one day on the Mexican – Barra de Navidad beach.

Vancouver Writing Retreat Weekend 2013-09

The Writer at the Top of the World on Lynn Peak

The Writer at the Top of the World on Lynn Peak

After the quite intense return to my paid day-job, while attempting to also work at my writing craft, I settle into a slightly calmer week-day routine. On the Labour Day weekend, I reward my mind and body with a venture out to the top of the world. On a sunny Saturday morning, after a quick visit to the downtown farmers market, my friend, her doggie and I hike up the local Lynn Peak (elevation gain 750m) for a picnic lunch and spectacular view of Vancouver. Being seriously out of hiking practice, and having popped a muscle relaxant to help me breathe, I am amazed at the relatively painless 2-hour hike up—the hike down of the same duration tells of the steepness and the ruggedness of the trail. We are all pooped in the evening, and when our bodies snap out of the shock we have imposed on them, they scream at us in protest for a couple of days. The change in perspective is so worth it! That weekend I make another Thai-themed Special Dish for the Week: Thai Ginger Tofu with Oyster Mushrooms and Swiss Chard.

The following week, I make plans to write on a few evenings. These plans get promptly derailed by my choosing to do an above-average job at my paid day-job, staying late to do so—and by the knowledge that I have dedicated the following weekend entirely to working on my book. Besides, I am a little stuck in my story, which is demanding of me some deep soul-searching and self-analysis—not exactly conducive to tackling when most of the brain-power for the day has been used up on figuring out how to help keep Canadians safer from natural disasters (which is what I do in my paid day-job at NRCan). So, I turn to my thriving herb garden, instead, for some comfort and sustenance. My first home-grown greens of arugula, basil and cilantro accompany my shrimp-asparagus-spinach quiche creation.

Comforting Herb Garden Greens with Shrimp-Asparagus-Spinach Quiche

Comforting Herb Garden Greens with Shrimp-Asparagus-Spinach Quiche

After a bi-weekly Skype check-in with my Developmental Editor to brainstorm how I might approach the impending weekend Writing Retreat, I prepare in advance my France-inspired Special Dish for the Week for the following week’s lunches: Ratatouille Provençale, as well as food to take to the retreat—and I don’t manage to go either dancing or to bed early. It has been a while for these latter two activities. Life tends to be a little full when you’re trying to live it and write about it.

The Writer at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

The Writer at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

The 2-day Writing Retreat, organized as part of the Just Write Vancouver Meetup group, is within a 10-minute bike ride over the bridge that joyously has a separated bike lane. As a warm-up to the Writing Retreat, I participate in a Yoga and Writing Workshop—both activities employing the principles of free-flow: in yoga, movement and breath flow freely; in writing, thoughts that are often self-critical flow freely onto paper or the keyboard (akin to the Daily Morning Pages). This Workshop interweaves both elements within its 2-hours.

Throughout the Retreat, I try hard to resolve the block I am stuck on in my story, but am careful not to push too hard, as I already learned that lesson. The images I conjure up for myself are that of me, facing a log jam of thoughts, and spinning a spider web of analysis to try to get myself to move forward in my story. I do a lot of free-writing during the weekend-long Writing Retreat, and resolve to try a different, more physical approach to this predicament—perhaps I need to print out a few dozen pages and go at them with coloured crayons, stickies, and scissors, and see what happens. Trying this approach would really stretch me in a new direction, but after being in this state of stuckedness for over a month, I just may need to get down on my knees and get my hands to help my brain find a way out.

The Writer's Weekend Writing Retreat Office

The Writer’s Weekend Writing Retreat Office

The Writing Retreat proves productive in several other ways too. Having set aside nearly 24 hours to just work on my book, I give myself permission to reorganize some spreadsheet lists, catch up on some reading of a helpful self-publishing blog, and add to my potential storyline ideas list. Much of the weekend I spend feeling nearly defeated by the task of trying to tell my own story in a cohesive, written form, and am gratefully heartened by the feedback I receive from several retreat co-participants. My brief descriptions of “what my book is about” draw my fellow writers in, as they exclaim “I really want to read your book!” Externally validated, my wilting internal motivation is revived. Though it cannot take forever, the memoir process will not be rushed…and I feel more ok with that as I emerge from the Writing Retreat.

I am also finding that writing need not be the solitary occupation that it is sometimes presented as. With about 10-20 of us in the large open space at any given point during the Retreat, though we do not speak with each other while we write, it feels that we are connecting on some level; the energy is almost palpable. Likewise, collaboration between writers can occur in the same room, or across countries and continents. In the past weeks, I have the good fortune to mentor from Vancouver my writer-friend in Ontario on setting up a website similar to mine, which she plans to use to recount her tales from her upcoming EuroTour. Earlier, when putting together my website during my Euro-Canadian Book Writing Tour 2013, I was learning the ropes from another Ontarian writer-friend who had been building her website ahead of me for sharing her literary projects. My good fortune in this writing collaborative of course also includes my US-based Developmental Editor and writer colleague—to name but a few global writer connections I have amassed thus far. Once I open up these website updates of my writing process more publically to the cyber-world, I hope to hyper-link with them.

Luscious Super Salads with the Writer's Herb Garden Greens

Luscious Super Salads with the Writer’s Herb Garden Greens

Naturally, I round out my weeks with more delicious, nutritious—and otherwise luscious—dishes. I have several super salads with the greens from my herb garden, observing in amazement the abundance of such a small growing area.