It’s been a busy couple of months publishing-wise, and I’m definitely behind on sharing news (I’ll get there, I’ll get there) but I couldn’t let today go past without a quick shout-out to this creepy anthology.
I originally submitted “Jenny” for another anthology Rhonda Parrish was editing. She found herself with a handful of stories she loved but that didn’t quite fit the tone of the original book. Not wanting to throw them back (see what I did there? Water related humor FTW) she decided to put together a darker, more horror-themed anthology, and Dark Waters was born.
When you suffer a traumatic brain injury people will tell you two things:
Don’t think about recovery as “getting back” to the way you were before, but rather as “discovering the new you”; and
Recovery isn’t a straight line.
Over the past three years, I’ve learned that you can hear, understand, and even preach these messages to others without actually internalizing them yourself. Without coming to terms with what it means for you and the life you imagined. Accepting and being really, honestly okay with the “new you” is a lot harder than just saying the words.
I injured myself in a fall during the Obstacle Course Racing World Championship (OCRWC) in 2017.
I tried to keep working for seven months, until my family, doctor, and employer all agreed I couldn’t keep going. Don’t get me wrong, I was still performing (traveling internationally, facilitating workshops, all that over-achiever stuff) but the cost was immense. Blinding headaches, exhaustion, confusion. No energy for anything beyond getting through one more day at work.
I was off work for two years, and during that time, things got better. We pared my life back to structured simplicity with no big cognitive demands (other than writing, which I could take at my own speed). Of course, me being me, I sometimes (often) overdid things and crashed, but overall it felt like I was seeing a steady improvement; my endurance got better, the crashes became less frequent, and I could do more of everything.
I could even run. A lot. Physical exertion didn’t work my brain, and without the exhaustion and fatigue that mental work brought, I had the energy to push myself in other ways. 2018 and 2019 were good race years. Not great – I had to be careful with which obstacles I attempted, and a lingering shoulder injury kept me off the rings and ropes – but good. We did our first 50k and started making plans for longer distances.
Then, in May 2020, I returned to work, and everything changed again. The fatigue came back like a blanket of wet cement, and it hasn’t really lifted since.
And I’m mad. SO, SO MAD.
I’m angry and frustrated that my body has let me down again and what I could do in 2018 and 2019 – both post injury years – I can’t do now. That I’m so tired every single day that I can’t even run 5k, let alone 50. That some days I can’t even fold the damn laundry by the time work is over. And that sometimes it feels there’s no end in sight. After all, we need my salary.
On bad days, I really hate the current version of “new me”. I know I can’t get back to who I was in 2017, before I fell, but what about 2019 me? She had a brain injury too, but she was way fitter. She had energy to run.
On good days, I keep hoping things will improve. I’ve changed jobs, and my new employer is serious about accommodations. Maybe once I settle in, my energy levels will get better.
I don’t know, and that’s the hard part. I don’t know if I’ll ever know. Brain injuries with lasting symptoms are like that. Unpredictable. Up and down. Better one day, worst the next.
I am honored to join fellow horror writers A.P Cairns and Tonya Liburd as a guest speaker for the Women in Horror episode of the “Words with Writers Podcast” from the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Authors Association.
It has come to my attention that I haven’t been taking very good care of myself.
I gained weight last year. I think almost everyone did. Our races were cancelled, we stopped walking to work, and comfort food became VERY appealing. While fumbling our way through the strange new normal of work from home, we soothed ourselves with chips. So very many chips. And candy. Dan figured out how to make cake in the crock pot (our oven broke in November 2019 and we have yet to replace it) and gave me WAY too much white chocolate for Christmas.
Sometime around New Years I realized that my “baggy” leggings were feeling, well, not very baggy. The past few years have been hard for me, when it comes to food. I’m a long distance runner. 10k, 20k, 30k, 50k…I’ve run them all. I used to be GOOD at managing my intake to support my energy needs. After I suffered a TBI in 2017, things changed. It got harder to say no to treats. And I didn’t want to say no. The concussion specialist who treated me said the area of my brain that controls cravings was damaged, but I know it was emotional too. When my symptoms were acting up, all I wanted was comfort food. The ambient stress of the past year made things worse. Long story short, I knew just deciding to change wouldn’t be enough. This time, I decided, I would bribe myself. With books! I established a food and exercise plan. I made it flexible, gave myself free days, and used check-boxes to keep track of everything. Check all my boxes for two weeks, I get a new book. Seven weeks and three new books in, my “baggy” legging are baggy again, and I’m on track for the holy grail, my old pre-TBI jeans. And on the plus side, NEW BOOKS. Here’s what I’ve picked up so far:
I returned to work in May 2020 after two years off on disability. It was meant to be a gradual return with the complexity and quantity of work ramping up slowly to allow me to rebuild my cognitive endurance. Between the pandemic, challenges with work-from-home, and some other lovely complications specific to my organization, it was anything but. I realized that while I can write all day (not edit, just write) without triggering my TBI symptoms, complex analytical tasks in a fast-paced environment rife with constant interruption and competing urgencies KILL MY BRAIN. The past four months have been…challenging. Lots of headaches. Lots of crashing on the couch by 3:30 pm so tired I barely have energy to eat, let alone drag myself through my exercises to earn my check-boxes. Long story short, I haven’t been managing my spoons well. Now I’ve got my eating planned out, it’s time of turn my attention to another aspect of self care; taking more breaks and pushing back on tasks that do not fall within my accommodations. In other words, learning how to say ‘NO’ and/or ‘Yes, but not now’.
Finally, I’ve realized there’s a lot to be said for being unproductive. Trying to be productive all the time doesn’t let your brain rest. When you have an injured brain like mine, that means it doesn’t heal. Pushing myself too hard after my injury is probably why I still have symptoms now. I never gave my brain a chance to get better and hurt myself more in the process. With lockdown forcing the whole family to spend more time inside, we’ve discovered the joy of calm, fluffy TV. TV that doesn’t take energy to understand or demand your constant attention. We’ve discovered baking shows. When I’m feeling on the edge of crashing — too tired to read, too tired to play a board game, too tired to even have a decent conversation without losing the flow — I put on a baking show and veg. I might even close my eyes and let the dulcet discussions of sponge and frosting sooth me off to sleep under my new, weighted couch-blanket.
You’d think the feline social structure in our house would be simple.
Mutant Cat 1 is older and bigger:
Mutant Cat 2 is younger and ridiculously tiny:
You’d think, based on age and size, MC 1 would hold the highest position in our household’s fuzzy hierarchy. You’d be wrong. But you’d also be wrong if you thought tiny little MC 2 was running the show. It’s not that simple. Each of our cats has their own particular areas of dominance.
MC 1 is the boss of food. He has no off switch. If you try to leave out enough food for a quick overnight trip, he’ll have eaten it all, horked it back up, and started on round two before you’re out the door. He once ate 900 calories worth of high-protein running fuel (left, ill-advisedly, we learned, on the counter) in a single bag-shredding, package chewing go. He’s honed his food-acquisition techniques through years of practice.
Technique one: Speed. MC 1 wolfs down his own food as fast as he can, sometimes even leaving it unfinished, so he can bolt down the hall, shoulder MC 2 out of the way, and scarf his. MC 1 then strolls back to his own bowl at his leisure. We have to stand guard until MC 2 is done.
Technique two: Sneak. Because he eats so much faster than MC 2, and becasue he can’t rest if he knows there’s other food available, MC 1 spends the vast proportion of kitty mealtimes trying to get to MC 2’s food. In the kitchen, this translates into an elaborate, slow-motion slink around the island. He tries one way, gets blocked. He tries the other, same. Over, around again, the other way…all to an endless chorus of “you’re not as sneaky as you think you are”.
Technique three: Distract. MC 1 has learned that if he shoves things off the counter, the humans get up. The bigger, messier, and louder the thing, the faster we jump. He’s also learned that when the humans are running for the large, sharp knife he’s just sent clattering to the floor, it’s a perfect opportunity to dash for the table and make off with half their breakfast.
MC 2 is the boss of cuddles. He’s tiny but fierce, and defends space — any space ( lap, counter, couch, pillow, etc.) — with wicked smacks. He makes himself comfortable no matter what that means for MC 1. He shoves him off pillows, pins him under blankets, slaps him in the face, tea-bags him. All’s fair, to MC 2, when it comes to claiming a spot to curl up.
Despite the confusion of dominance, both our cats are heat-seeking cuddle bugs. They don’t just want to sleep on your bed. They want to be under the covers, in your PJs with you. We choose onesies and hoodies for their cat-accommodation potential.
Warm appliances are also a favorite.
MOMMY’S BOY vs THE LITTLE MAN
MC 1, despite being bigger and older, is the needier of the two. He cries when I leave the house, and won’t sleep at night unless I’m hugging him. He’s a lovely, derpy boy with separation anxiety and an a whole lot of existential dread. That’s OK, MC 1…I can relate.
MC 2, on the other hand, is a confident little guy. He’s tiny (and occasionally scooty, becasue the world is a BIG place when you’re only 5lbs) but he carries himself with bold certainty and takes affection on his own terms. As a friend once said, “MC 2 knows he’s a fashion model. He doesn’t need us. MC 1 is weird and desperate for love.”
For all their eccentricities and foibles, we love them both to pieces, and let them walk all over us. Often quite literally.
I read eclectically — some classics, some thrillers, some literary fiction, a LOT of spec-fic — but this summer (and fall, I guess) I’ve made a concentrated effort to buy and read a) debut novels and b) recent horror novels in both the YA and Adult categories.
Here, in no particular order and with no commentary, are some of my Summer/Fall reads. Give them a try!
Say what you will about twitter, I’ve found the twitter writing community to be an amazing and supportive group. Not only do other writers at all stages of their careers exchange thoughts, suggestions, and encouragement, but agents and editors also wade gleefully into the fray, answering questions and posting their #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List).
A recent twitter exchange with an agent about acceptable word counts (i.e. how many words a novel in any particular genre can be, before an agent will reject it on sight) ended with her giving me a recommendation that has turned out to be, no word of a lie, the BEST editing resource I’ve ever found.
If you write, get this book. It took me two days to apply it to one of my manuscripts. Add another two days for an in-depth read through, and another two for a final polish, and you essentially have a one-week deep-edit. I cut 6000 words from my YA manuscript, and 11,000 from the adult one. With no (negative) changes to plot, character arc, world-building, or flow. I thought my writing was tight before…now it’s so tight you could bounce a quarter off it!