Writing

Finding yourself without a map

Sometimes memories strike at random. Maybe it’s a smell or a taste or an article of clothing or a photo that Facebook shares with you that morning. And sometimes, memories are brought on by thinking about where you were, and who you were, ____ years ago.

Graduation night from Journalism school, thinking I had life figured out.

I was recently thinking about a time in my life that was almost 10 years ago exactly. I was waitressing full time, bobbing from one social event to the next, changing my hairstyle as often as I changed my clothes, and feeling like I was getting deeper and deeper in a meaningless rut. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do with my life, and I knew I needed to change.

Enter the idea of Journalism school. There was something about going back to school that signified a fresh start in a sharper and more concise way than almost anything else I could think of. School meant direction and purpose. School meant action. So I applied, was accepted, and as the summer drew to a close, I moved out of my apartment and started packing my life into boxes (and into a U-Haul, which would promptly go to my new apartment, in a different city nearly two hours away).

I’m not sure exactly what I expected from Journalism school. Maybe I was looking for the metaphorical flashing sign, some inner voice telling me that I had found my calling. I think part of me expected that since I had made such a big change in my life, the universe would go the rest of the way and let me know that what I was doing was the right path for me. But that’s not what I got. What I got was the bone deep knowledge that I was not doing what I wanted to do with my life, big change or not. I had simply veered from one lifestyle that wasn’t right for me in another wrong direction.

I wanted to quit. I recall a tearful conversation with my mom wherein I entertained the idea of dropping out because I knew the program wasn’t for me. But that didn’t feel right either. I wasn’t a quitter. I didn’t want to be one of those people who only ever saw how green the grass was on the other side.

So I stuck it out. And I actually grew to like it, at least some of the courses I took and things I learned. I convinced myself that I liked it enough to move to Toronto and take an unpaid internship that would hopefully lead to a job. Even though I knew my heart was somewhere else, I felt a sense of satisfaction at having chosen a life path. I felt like an adult for maybe the first time ever.

Fast forward a few months after school ended. I was living in Toronto, doing two different internships. My life had routine and a purpose. I should have felt good about that, but the truth was, I felt more lost than ever. What if I continued along this path and never found out what I wanted to do? Or what if I already knew, but lacked the guts to admit it to myself? 

Then a recession happened with the economy. Entire departments were cut and my internships did not lead to jobs. If I believed in signs, the universe might as well have lit that one in flashing fluorescent bulbs. I made the decision to move back home, and back in with my parents. I felt like I had failed. At that point, although I never would have said it out loud, I knew that writing books was what I wanted to do with my life, but I had no idea how to go about it. So what did I do instead? I signed up for more school, this time an honours specialization in English literature. I convinced myself that throwing myself back into academia would lead to the answer I was looking for.

It took me a couple more years to figure out that my checkerboard lifestyle actually followed a very decisive pattern. I was excellent at looking for distractions and finding reasons to convince myself why I would fail at writing before I could even get a word on the page. I was excellent at talking myself into things I wasn’t passionate about and talking myself out of my dreams. 

To be honest, I’m not sure what changed this. I’m not sure what made me finally open a Word document and start typing. I’m not sure what made me stick with it when I felt like a total hack and when I was sure nothing would actually come of it. There wasn’t one specific moment in time that made me realize I needed to write. There was no bell in my head, no glaring sign from the universe. I think it was the thousand small moments that finally built walls around me and ensconced me in my truth.

It has now been almost five years since I finished that first novel, which is now rightfully trunked. It’s now several hundreds of thousands of words later, some of which are published or will be published, and some of which will only ever be seen by me. But they all mean something to me. They mean I sat down and wrote that day. They mean I had guts. They mean I didn’t let my fear of failure stop me from being the person I want to be.

I still struggle with the fear of failure. I still get intimidated when I open a new Word document. But the difference is, I hold myself accountable. I don’t let fear stop me. If I could go back in time and give the version of me clinging to the idea of Journalism school a piece of advice, it would be to spend less time looking for signs and more time listening to my own instincts. I would tell that girl that she would never regret a single day spent with her butt in the chair and characters in her head. I would tell her that it doesn’t matter what other people think. I would tell her not to talk herself out of her dreams.

Last of all, I would give her a big hug and tell her to be kind to herself, because finding yourself sometimes requires a map that doesn’t exist.

On being a girl’s mom

Baby’s first photo shoot! Photo credit to the talented Shirley Konu of SVH Designs!

Hi everyone! I’m taking a brief hiatus from my monthly update posts for a reason tiny in size but monumental in importance… the birth of my beautiful daughter, Astrid Doreen Lucille Flynn! She was born at 2:00 am on May 26, and the days since have been a total whirlwind. Everyone says time goes by crazy fast when you have a child, and I’m realizing that it’s not just a cliché… it’s very true. Astrid is almost four weeks old now and I have no idea how that happened already!

It’s not usually hard for me to write about anything (generally, it’s the opposite… I have too many words and too many ideas and not enough minutes in the day or space on a page to express them all)! But writing about Astrid and how she has already changed me is difficult to do. I had no idea it was possible to form such an instant, immediate, fierce love and devotion for another person. I had no idea that an adorably gummy little smile would bring tears to my eyes, or that I would wake up in the night just to stare at her and make sure she’s okay, or that rocking her to sleep would be such a feeling of comfort, or that changing a diaper and using less than ten wipes would be a big accomplishment. I had no idea I could function and be productive on so little sleep. (To think I used to need at least eight hours a night… ha!)

While I haven’t been writing much since Astrid arrived, I have been thinking about my writing, and how being the mom of a daughter will influence it. Shortly after Astrid was born and I was holding my baby girl, I realized how much I want to write stories for her, stories with strong female characters she can see herself in. Stories with girls who aren’t perfect, but who are real. Stories with girls who follow their hearts, who are fearless and unafraid of going after their dreams. I want to write stories that will inspire her (when she’s old enough to read them)! And I want to introduce her to books by so many of my talented author friends, who write some seriously authentic and memorable girls. I hope that books are a part of her life, the way they have been such a huge part of mine and helped me discover things about myself. I hope they make her realize there is no dream too big for her.

I’m an unapologetically girly girl. I have a closet devoted solely to dresses and skirts. I love purses and shoes and makeup and spa days, the color pink, girls’ nights spent drinking blush wine and watching Say Yes To The Dress. My lipstick collection is out of control. My Chihuahua owns several dresses that I make her wear. But I have another side. I’m also a daredevil. I also love hiking and being outside and if there’s a body of water to jump into, chances are I’ll be on the highest ledge, ready to dive in. If there’s a new trail to explore, I’m on it. I’ll try almost anything once. Girls don’t have to be one way or the other. Girls can do and be everything. I’m the mom of a girl who is now my everything. I want to show my everything that she can do and be anything. I can start by continuing to live my own dreams and set my own big goals, by not being afraid of that intimidating book idea or venturing outside of my comfort zone. I can live by example, as a strong woman who takes risks, so that she looks up to me.

And I can only hope that in the meantime, when she looks up at me, she keeps giving me those magnificent gummy smiles.

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