20 Genders And More, Really?

This morning—while taking a break from writing a novelette, one that shows sex in the 50s—a letter to the editor in a recent Maclean’s magazine caught my attention. The writer mentioned that the government of Ontario’s sex ed. program is planning on teaching six genders, when in fact, there are more than 20 genders considered in some countries.  More than 20? What? I had no idea.

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From Sam Killerman’s Website

I was aware of that there were more identities than heterosexual and homosexual. The transgender and transvestite population have been making news in print, film, and television in the past several years, but 20 genders and more, really?

As a teen growing up in Winnipeg during the 50s, society from my perspective was largely heterosexual with the odd person who wasn’t. (Note the word “odd”, but that was how this person was viewed back then.) That odd person was considered a “fruit”, “pansy”, “homo”  and “queer”.  They were not nice terms; they identified those who didn’t fit the so-called norm, the general public’s view of men and women.

As I think back, these names were born out of ignorance. Those men and women who were gay—not a term used back then—were relegated to the sidelines. Many back then didn’t dare show their sexuality for fear of being ridiculed or ostracized in some way. So, in essence, we didn’t know that there were more than the “odd” person in our midst who were of a different gender than straight male and straight female. It must’ve been very painful to live in fear of being discovered for who you really were.

When I became a social worker, and also an actress, I ran into quite a few gay men, who became dear friends. I lost a couple to Aids in the 70s, a tragic time for all. On the positive side, it was the time that gay men and women were emerging from the shadows. By then, I had moved with my family to Vancouver, a city that embraced diversity.

I also worked in mental health in the 70s and 80s, a time when homosexuality was a diagnosis, a condition that psychologists and psychiatrists tried to cure people from. I never bought it. I kept thinking, why would anyone choose homosexuality when society was so unkind as a whole?  It’s not a choice. We are who we are.

Desert HeartsIn the late 80s, during the Vancouver International Film Festival, I saw Desert Hearts, a film about two lesbian lovers. The audience was full of female couples, who hooted and hollered when the action got steamy on the screen. I enjoyed their free expression and their obvious joy at seeing two women in love with one another.

Today, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited and queer community celebrate together annually in Gay Pride Parades worldwide. In major North American cities, it’s common to see same-sex couples embrace or hold hands on the streets. See GLBTTQ Canadian Rights Timeline.

In recent years though, as more and more states in America have legalized same-sex unions, there’s been a backlash in the mid-western and southern ones, where lawmakers have tried to prevent same-sex couples from marrying. I can’t believe the fear that drives them to block a union of love they don’t understand. These lawmakers believe it’s an un-Christian act. How do they know that Jesus wasn’t gay? Or some of his followers? What are they afraid of? It’s not catchy.

From Wikimedia

From Wikimedia

No one can influence anyone to be one gender or another. You just are, however you’ve come into this world. And the beauty of that nature needs to be celebrated in all its colors. No wonder the rainbow flag has been adopted to represent the variety of genders in our midst.

Of course, I had to look up these 20 and more genders, and found that The Daily Beast reported on Facebook’s 51 genders. Wow! Prior to reading this, I was of the mind that there were basically three main categories: heterosexuals, homosexuals, and transgendered persons. Obviously, from reading this list, sexuality is more complicated than that. And if you step back and consider our world with over seven billion people, why wouldn’t it be?

Thoughts? I wonder how we can move forward in society without fear of the different and embrace all the colors of the rainbow. Surely, there’s room for all of us.

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What’s So Special About St. Patrick’s Day?

The Greens of Ireland

The Greens of Ireland

Ah, I love the Irish. I toured Ireland with my husband, Robert, in 2009 to visit my first cousins, who, prior to that, I hadn’t met.

I fell in love with the land and its people. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated now world-wide, wherever the Irish are and where the people who love them live.

March 17th, the day Saint Patrick died, commemorates the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. But why celebrate his death? Because in the Christian religion, that’s the day he began living with God, his Father in Heaven. According to the church, that’s when true life begins.

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The Three-Leafed Shamrock photo by Diana Stevan

On St. Patrick’s Day many wear  shamrocks and/or green clothing (known as the “wearing of the green”).

It is believed that St Patrick used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to tell the story of the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish.

I loved Ireland so much that I incorporated a lot of what I saw into my debut novel, A Cry From The Deep, where half my story takes place.

In the following excerpt from my prologue, which takes place in 1878, Margaret O’Donnell prays to St. Patrick, thanking him for his help.

““`

While her father went off to arrange a rowboat, her grandmother braided some fresh primroses into Margaret’s long auburn hair. She couldn’t see the ocean from where she sat, but the thought of James waiting for her on the ship was enough to make her squirm.

“Now, Margaret, you’re goin’ to make your old granny cross if you don’t put a stop to your movin’. I can’t promise you a handsome head if you keep twitchin’ this way and that.”

“Sorry, Granny, I’m too—”

“I know, child. You don’t have to tell me,” said the old woman as she wove in another primrose.

“All I can say is the good Lord’s been lookin’ out for you. Goodness knows what you would’ve done if he hadn’t come back.”

What she would’ve done was marry Barnaby Athol, the middleman for their landlord, to keep from starving in the future. After she’d accepted his offer, she’d prayed to St. Patrick, telling the saint it wasn’t Barnaby’s withered leg that repulsed her, rather it was his mean ways with his tenants. She silently thanked the saint for bringing James back.

““`

And may the luck of the Irish be with you. Any comments or shared stories are always appreciated.

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Why Do Writers Write What They Write?

 

The question of why writers write what they write 180px-Beloved_by_Toni_Morrisoncame up a while back, when I caught an interview that Stephen Colbert did with author, Toni Morrison, a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner, who started writing at age 39.

Stephen asked Toni Morrison if she was undergoing a mid-life crisis at the time. She responded that her decision to write could be defined as that. She had noticed that there were no stories of how racism affected black girls, poor girls, and the hurt they experienced because of that. So, she wrote Beloved, The Song of Solomon among many.

I recently read, Blessed Are The Contrariansby Rob Piccoli. This is a book of essays which raises big questions about religion, politics, nature and health. Rob is both a philosopher and a conservative writer living in Italy, who uses examples not only from his native country but also from America, as well as ideas from Montaigne, Emerson, G.K. Chesterton and others. Because he is well read and educated, he wrote his book because he could offer a unique perspective on the conflicts happening today.

I thought about the novel I had just written, and why I wrote what I wrote. A Cry From The Deep is a story of love everlasting, the kind of love I grew up with. As some of you may know from reading my blog, I’m a sucker for romance, the kind that’s respectful of both sexes. It seems we have less and less of that kind in films and stories today. The romantic dance of love that men and women are capable of doing sometimes gets lost in today’s busy world, in the liberal openness of our times, and in the overt sexuality in films. I’m not advocating for censorship but I am advocating for more romance in our lives.

I think I wrote the kind of novel I wanted to read. One where love, the idea of eternal love, was there. The commitment that kept a couple together, and I don’t care if they’re straight or gay or whatever, but the idea of love everlasting is one I hope we don’t lose sight of.

Why do you write what you write? What got you started? What did you feel you needed to say? 

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The Hard Truth In Fiction

When I read a novel, I want to escape and get into someone else’s world for awhile. I want my imagination to run wild. I want to cheer for the protagonist when she fights for what she believes; I want to fear for her life when she’s in jeopardy; and when she falls in love, I want to feel her excitement and revel in that wonderful emotion. Do I want to be reminded of the ills of the world? Of course not. For that, I follow the news or read the odd non-fiction book.

But even though much of fiction is an escape from boredom and other trials of life, there are countless tales that have a veiled message about social issues of the highest magnitude—race, religion, politics, war, etc. Or a story could refer to one that hits home regardless of the bigger issues that divide, like divorce, illness or death. There is hard truth in fiction.

If an author truly cares about a subject, it’s hard to keep those cares from seeping into the writing. Whatever bothers the author in life often bothers the protagonist in a story. Those seeds of discontent find their way onto the pages, whether it’s conscious or unconscious. The trick is maintaining a balance, so that the writer isn’t preaching through the mouths of his characters, unless, wink-wink, the character is a preacher.

my-sisters-keeper-lgMy argument is that as long as the author isn’t beating the reader over his or her lovely head with an unending lecture delivered by one of the characters in his story, then there is a place for social issues in fiction. Often fiction presents these dilemmas in a subtle enough way that the truth is easier to digest than if it was expounded upon in a book of non-fiction.

Jodi Picoult has made a name for herself writing stories about families dealing with health concerns as well as others. In My Sister’s Keeper , she shows how leukemia impacts a family and puts pressure on one daughter to help her sister, who is suffering from the disease.

In the books The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, racial prejudice is illustrated in all its ugly colours.

Anita Shreve in All He Ever Wanted wove in the horror of anti-semitism. It came out of the blue in a story about a professor who was obsessed with a woman who All He Ever Wantedcoudn’t return his love. I hesitate to say more, as I don’t want to divulge any more surprises.

In Televenge Pamela Cable’s mammoth work about the vagaries of televangelism, a charismatic preacher preys on the vulnerable. Yes, it’s about  a woman dealing with a cheating husband, but it’s set against the backdrop of a much larger social issue.

In my debut novel, A Cry From The Deep, Catherine Fitzgerald, an underwater photographer, is passionate about the environment. The fact that oceans are being polluted and that salvagers are raping the sea bottom in pursuit of treasure galls her no end. And because the environment is something I deeply care about, the threat to our oceans crept into my story and into my character’s thoughts and words. It wasn’t planned. It just happened as I began writing.

In fiction that tackles serious matters and gives us the hard truth, the reader not only escapes for awhile but is hopefully enlightened at the end of the book as well.

Please leave a comment, don’t be shy. Also, if you know of any books of fiction that have highlighted some social issue and yet managed to entertain you, I’d love to hear about them.

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The Rocket – A Great Movie To Lift Your Spirits

The RocketWith endless bad news on TV, I found a lovely escape and a great beginning to the new year when I watched The Rocket, an inspirational Australian film I took out of the West Vancouver Library. I didn’t know what to expect but the cover said it had won a number of awards—turned out to be 28 wins and 28 nominations—and  when I checked Rotten Tomatoes, it had received a 98% rating. Impressive.

I’ve seen a lot of films in my life (due largely to my acting and screenwriting ventures), and in fact, have produced a few short ones with my grandson, Michael Stevantoni, who’s won a few awards. I’m in short, a movie buff. Have been since I was dragged to the cinema when I was five. My mother couldn’t get enough of them, so we’d walk close to a mile in Winnipeg in all seasons, as we had no car, and sit through newsreels, cartoons, trailers and two features. Yes, two features.

Rotten Tomatoes is right. The Rocket does not disappoint at any level. It’s a winner from the first frame, when we’re introduced to the lead being born in Laos, one of twins, which apparently in their culture is not a good sign. This fact dogs him throughout the story.

The cinematography of the Laos landscape is stunning, as is the story about this young boy and his family and how they manage to survive when a proposed dam threatens their home and livelihood. The rocket in The Rocket refers to both unexploded mines left from America’s covert war in Laos and a rocket festival, where anyone with the ability to build one that pierces the clouds to bring rain can win a prize beyond their wildest dreams. There is even a wonderful James Brown look-alike character who’s down on his luck but plays a big part in this young child’s life.

Though it was filmed in a foreign culture,  the family dynamics between the husband and wife, the child and his parents, the husband and his mother, are universal. The acting is superb and I didn’t detect a false note anywhere.

And as a writer, I welcomed the message in this story. Don’t give up despite the odds!

If you’ve seen this movie, I’d love your thoughts. If you know of another great movie that lifts your spirits, I’d love to hear about it.

Have a great year!

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From My Vantage Point The World Is Promising

P1020986It’s almost year end. From my vantage point, I look back at what I’ve experienced but also look ahead and wish for what I’d like to see happen.

2014 has been a wondrous year for our family, health-wise and travel-wise. Robert and I had a magical trip to Machu Picchu and a cruise around the horn, landing in Buenas Aries. We and our daughter Karen drove our grandson, Michael, down to L.A. for his first year film studies. We also flew twice to see our other daughter, Robyn, and family in Toronto, where we saw a number of Soulpepper Theatre plays, featuring our son-in-law, Diego Matamoros, and heard our granddaughter Chloe sing in a local community centre.

I also published my debut novel, A Cry From The Deep. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of learning the business side of all that and getting on with my other writing.

Though the news on TV is often troubling, from my vantage point, the world is promising because of all the fabulous people and cultures within it. I think about how we can work together to ensure a better world for our children and grandchildren. We need to accept and celebrate one another’s differences, whether it’s faith, colour of skin, or sexual orientation. We are not that different when it comes to what we all want out of Life.

We also need to clean up our planet, treasure nature and what it offers us in its beauty. Yes, it’s a big job, but when I think about what one person can do, like our 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner,  Malala Yousafzai, just think of what we can do if we work hard to promote a message of peace, tolerance, and charity.

So, whether you celebrate Hanukkah this time of year or Christmas, or are an Atheist, or a Buddhist, or a Muslim, (who do celebrate Christmas in a way) or whatever, I hope that together we can join hands and make a better world.

Wishing you and yours Peace and Joy in the coming year.

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What Dreams Tell Us

 From Life Magazine  September 1995. Photograph by Bill Binzen

From Life Magazine September 1995. Photograph by Bill Binzen

I’m a believer in what dreams tell us. I grew up in a house where dreams were discussed over morning coffee. My mother and baba would get out a tattered dream book to find out what their dreams meant.  For them, everything in a dream was symbolic of something else.

There were many times as a child, when I was about to go to school, that my mother would say, “Be careful today. I had a bad dream.” Often, that meant that she had been laughing or singing in her dream, which to her meant that the opposite would occur and she would soon be  crying over some disaster. She believed that dreams foretold the future, even though I could not remember one time when she was right.

I do remember one time that could be true. It was when my husband, Rob, dreamt his mother and aunt were sitting together in hooded cloaks. It was a scary dream as they weren’t talking; they were silent. A few days later, we learned that his younger brother had passed away. Was the dream foretelling the tragedy, or did my husband dream that because his younger brother, who was sick with cancer, was on his mind? I think the latter, though dreams like that do give you pause. It seemed that Rob had connected with his family across the miles.

Film Noir Wikipedia

Film Noir Wikipedia

For twenty-five years, I worked as a clinical social worker and saw many people in therapy for all kinds of problems. One of the subjects that would crop up from time to time were dreams. Some recurring dream or nightmare that plagued the person who came to see me.

One client told me she was afraid to go to bed at night because she kept dreaming about a spider crawling on her. She would wake up in terror. In my interpretation, the spider was symbolic of how she was feeling about her life. She wasn’t in control. She was allowing others to dictate how she should be. I suggested she could change the outcome in her dream. She could tell herself that the next time the spider appeared she’d be ready with a slipper to shoo it away. That conscious thought could seep into her unconscious and make a difference. She went one step further. When she returned to see me, she told me that she had put a slipper under her bed and after that, she didn’t have the nightmare again. She also began to feel stronger in life.

I also had recurring nightmares as a child. Night and the CityIn my early elementary school years, my parents would take me once a week to a double feature at the cinema. I saw many film noir movies, the kind that featured John Garfield, Richard Widmark, or Robert Mitchum. They were black and white stories about killers on the loose. Tall shadows loomed large on the screen. Is it a wonder that I dreamt of some man­­­­—with his shadow—climbing up the staircase to my bedroom, getting closer and closer until I woke up in a panic just before he reached my door? I continued to have those nightmares until I took karate lessons in my early twenties. Once I had some fighting skills, those nightmares went away.

So with that kind of background, is it surprising that I’ve featured dreams in my debut novel, A CRY FROM THE DEEP. Catherine Fitzgerald, an underwater photographer, is bothered by nightmares after she buys an antique ring at a flea market. In her case, her dreams have nothing to do with her reality or do they?

What about you? Have you been ruled by dreams? Do you have some dream that has stayed with you? What do you think dreams tell us?

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What Does A Ring Say About Love?

What Does A Ring Say About Love? That popped into my head this morning, as I thought about how my story, A Cry From The Deep , came to involve a ring of such significance. I can’t remember how I came up with the idea of having an antique Claddagh wedding ring play such a major role.  A ring linking one woman from the distant past with a woman in the present.

claddagh ringThe Claddagh Ring symbolizes “love and friendship”.  A wedding ring is a concrete promise of commitment…till death do us part. Eternity…a beginning without an end. Everlasting love.

Wikipedia states that it’s “widely believed that the first examples of wedding rings were found in ancient Egypt.” Back then, about 3000 years ago, rings were made by braiding hemp or reeds and then exchanged by the bride and groom. The circle was the symbol of eternity, and the ring a sign of never-ending love between the couple.

In my novel, I talk about a promise that would not die. A ring from Ireland symbolizes that promise. I wonder if you have a ring that has special meaning, one that you will carry to the end of your life.

 

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

I was married with one ring, a simple white gold band, and then later when my husband and I were backpacking through Europe with our children, fifteen years later, we found another on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

 

We saw this artisan carving 18K gold rings and they were so beautiful that we bought matching ones.

wedding ringI treasure it but notice, because of the softness of the gold, the design is wearing with time, much as I am.

I remember my mother talking about her ring, the one she got from my father in the dirty thirties, the depression that hit North America like a knockout punch. She said, “my diamond is so puny.” I think this was after she had admired my mother-in-law’s that was a karat and a half. Jealousy had reared its ugly head. My mother’s ring was indeed tiny, but was it really that important how big her diamond was, or was it more important that it was the symbol of my father’s love for her? It was all he could afford.

In my story, the ring has its own journey. Do any of your rings have stories to tell?

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Freedom Is Not Free

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Corporal Nathan Cirillo

Given the recent events in Ottawa, where an Islamic jihadist shot unarmed reservist, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, in the back at the Tomb for the Unknown Soldier, and that Nov. 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada and others in the  Commonwealth, I thought it fitting that I re-post my thoughts with some revisions from a year ago. It’s the day  we honor our veterans and those we’ve lost.

We in Canada were shocked and deeply saddened to hear of Cirillo’s untimely death and to also discover that we had been harboring someone (unnamed here deliberately) who did not value what we value as Canadians. A terrorist who had no right to live in our beautiful land. He had lost that right when he adopted his jihadist thinking.

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We, in Canada and the USA, pride ourselves in sharing the belief that we can all live together in harmony, regardless of cultural and religious differences. And to a great degree, we have succeeded. We have also as nations fought and died for the right of others to live in this way. That’s what we commemorate on Remembrance Day.

In the fall of 2013, my husband and I visited the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., an almost two mile long public space incorporating a reflecting pool and major war monuments. To stand there and look down that mall—the Capital at one end, the Lincoln monument at the other—is an unbelievable experience. The magnificence of the design in that open space underlines the strength and beauty of America.

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World War II Memorial

The war monuments are of such grandeur that you can’t walk by them without thinking of the human tragedy of war. Lives lost and spirits crushed. Dreams dashed. Families broken. It’s stunning to read how many tens of thousands have died for their country.

Unfortunately, it’s a universal story. Every country has lost sons and daughters to war.

We first stopped at the relatively new World War II Memorial. What’s striking about it are the bronze reliefs on it, depicting scenes from that time.

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One of the bronze scenes at the WWII memorial

I had three uncles in that war. They were from a small town in Manitoba; they came from a poor family. War was adventure, a steady pay check, and a call of duty. One was in the air force, two in the army. They all came home, but were forever scarred by what they’d seen.

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Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial commemorates another one where Canadians,  Americans, and their allies fought side by side.

Another war that grabbed its young, and those who made it back were older before their time.

 

 

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They Come to Honor The Fallen

The last one we visited was the Vietnam War Memorial. A massive dark stone wall with the names of Americans who didn’t return.

Canadians didn’t fight in Vietnam, but we know the story. The horrors, the sacrifices, and the madness of war played out daily on our TV screens in the 60s and early 70s.

 

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Bronze Soldiers look on the Vietnam Memorial

The Vietnam memorial touched my husband and I the most. Partly because it was the freshest war, the one in our lifetime with no easy answers. And partly, because there are still plenty of survivors and family members who visit and pay their respects.

There, I witnessed a father looking for his son’s name on the stone.

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A volunteer tries to ease the pain.

I saw a former soldier cry when a volunteer made a rubbing of his friend’s name, or maybe it was his brother’s, and a man shake with sorrow as he ran his fingers over the engraved letters.

I didn’t lose anyone in this war, but just seeing all the dead listed and the tears around me,  I couldn’t help but feel some of the pain of those who did.

At the end of the day, I was left with this thought, etched on a stone near the Korean Veterans Memorial. FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.

Freedom Is Not Free

FREEDOM IS NOT FREE

 

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MY COMPULSION

My compulsion is to write. I can’t not write.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines compulsion as a :  an act of compelling :  the state of being compelled b :  a force that compels and 2 :  an irresistible persistent impulse to perform an act (as excessive hand washing); also :  the act itself  In other words, an obsession.

What got me thinking about Herb and Dorothycompulsion in general was a documentary I saw the other day called Herb & Dorothy.

The Vogels were a New York city couple with a modest income—he a postal clerk, she a librarian—who managed to amass an extraordinary collection of minimalist and conceptual art in the post 60s. They amassed it through their compulsion to buy. During their off-work hours, they would prowl Soho and any other place a struggling artist hung out and buy up to six or seven pieces at a time. They couldn’t not buy a painting by a budding and promising artist.

What was also striking about their acquisitions was the fact that they had little room to display them in their tiny apartment. Art work hung on every wall, and when space ran out there, they hung the canvases on their ceiling or jammed them into every conceivable corner, including under their bed. They became both collectors and hoarders.

They also had no idea how much their art collection was worth. It was never about the money. It was about what they felt compelled to do. It was their bliss. Mind you, they had an eye for talent, and they used it to bolster the egos of the artists who struggled to make ends meet. It was a win-win relationship.

At the end of their lives, when Herb and Dorothy’s energy had petered out, and Herb had to hobble from one artist’s studio to another hunched over with a cane for support, they gave their entire collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It took several block-long moving trucks to empty their apartment. It was a puzzle to all how they’d managed to cram what they had collected into that tiny space.

Their compulsion reminded me of my own, my need to write. Mine wasn’t always like that. As a child growing up with immigrant parents, one of whom was illiterate, I would never have dreamt of becoming a writer. Though an honors student, the subjects of language and literature were a challenge. As I look back, I think it was a matter of confidence that I didn’t pursue writing at that time. But once I hit my 20s, I began jotting notes here and there, trying out a short story or a newspaper article, and entering an essay contest in a major fashion magazine, for which I won an honorable mention. I proceeded to buy journals which I filled right to the margins. But though I scribbled every chance I got, writing took a backseat while our children were growing up. It didn’t put food on the table.

I admit to being driven to write. The first thing I do now when I get up is put the coffee on and hit my computer. I find, that if I don’t create something new, there is something missing in my life. It’s like I need that jolt of new words on a page to settle me, much like a drug addict who needs a fix to calm his spirits.

Yes, writing is an obsession of mine, but it’s a positive addiction, much like running, that gives you a natural high. It doesn’t hurt anyone and brings me a sense of accomplishment, and in that, there is much satisfaction. I also sleep better when I’ve used my imagination to take me to a place I haven’t gone before. And for that reason, I have no intention of breaking, what for me, has become a delicious habit.

How about you? Are you compelled to do something? Some compulsion you wouldn’t mind sharing? I’d love to hear your comments.

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