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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Seductive Musings

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Starting over... again


Anyone remember Project: Happiness?

It was supposed to be my focus during 2012 — a chance to remake my life and rebuild myself, a chance to start over. It didn’t get very far, despite a lot of thought, much of which was shared on this blog. Somehow, I got derailed.

Part of it was Striking Distance, the toughest book I’ve ever written. I have a tendency to lose myself in my stories emotionally, but this was more than that. I came face to face with my physical and emotional limits while writing this novel. Because writing was such a struggle for me, I made it my No. 1 priority. In doing so, I hurt myself — and that made writing harder. It was a downward spiral.

The result is perhaps my best I-Team story to date, but that doesn’t justify or make up for fourteen long months of treating myself like shit.

I tried in the immediate aftermath of finishing the book to be kinder to myself, to get away from the computer, to do things I enjoy and restore my sense of happiness. Benjamin and I went up into the mountains several times, disconnecting entirely, and enjoying the amazing beauty of what is kind of like our own backyard. And it felt great.


Photo: Mud Lake near Nederland

I kept very busy in June after turning the book in and on into July, catching up on almost a year’s worth of neglected projects, heading off to RomCon and then RWA.

While at RWA, a friend touched on a sore spot that drew an emotional response from me. This led to a personal conversation lasting hours that left me feeling shredded, raw, and exposed. It felt to me like my friend was saying, “Quit living in the past. Get over it, and get your shit together.” I know that wasn’t the content of my friend’s message or how the message was delivered — it was more compassionate than that and came with the best of caring intentions — but that’s how I heard it. That’s how it felt.

I cried for two days after I got home.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to “quit living in the past.” In fact, I think I’ve fought pretty damned hard to make something of my life. But when your past includes violence, sexual assault, being attacked in your own home by men with knives, falling off a mountain, and living with physical limitations and almost indescribable chronic pain for years, it’s not so easy to “get over it.” No one who has not lived through those situations can understand them. No one who has not lived with severe chronic pain can understand how much of your joy, your energy, your life it steals.

And yet this kick-in-the-ass conversation, no matter how much it hurt, had a point. This is my life, and every day I don’t claim it and shape it for myself, is a day lost that I can never get back again. Since I have no idea how long my life will last, I need to focus on being happy not in some theoretical future, but right fucking now.

Now.

I had to look at how far I’d come in the past couple years and admit that, although I’d written a novella and a novel, my personal circumstances and my quality of life hadn’t improved. I remembered Project Happiness — yes, I’d kind of forgotten about it. In fact, I’d given up without even realizing it.

I also realized that Project: Happiness was flawed in that it was a plan, but it wasn’t an action. I was thinking about things, but I wasn’t doing much. Change requires some forethought, yes, but more than that it requires action. I realized I couldn’t wait until my next book is done or my house is clean and organized or there is a royalty check in the bank to start taking care of myself. I realized I needed to do that now.

I was talking to my beautiful beloved sister about this when I had a pretty huge realization.

An image of a butterfly pinned inside a museum display case came to my mind, and I realized it was a metaphor for how I felt about myself and my life.

I have put off for so long things I want to do because work needed to be done. My life and who I am has been about some “to do” list that never gets any smaller. I want to get back into drawing and painting. I want to quilt again. I want to get back into shape and feel healthier. I want a rich life that’s about more than writing, a life that inspires and supports writing because of all the great experiences I have. And, most of all, I want to return to Denmark and travel.

Photo: Rådhuspladsen in downtown Copenhagen, my favorite city

I kept thinking there would come a day when I would magically have the time and freedom to do these things. But it has come to me that I have to make the time and give myself the freedom to do these things — or they will never happen. The rich life I want can’t happen if I don’t let it happen.

I’m pinned down because I pinned myself down. I have the freedom to live the life I want, and if not now, then when?

Upstairs on my bedroom wall is the artwork my kids made while in school. I love child art. There’s something so creatively fresh and compelling about it. One of my prized items is a collage by my younger son titled, “The Butterfly Who Flashed His Wings.” The words are written in a child’s scrawl above the painted paper butterfly you see at the top of this post.

It’s time to free myself and flash my wings.

Writing can no longer be more important than I, myself, am. Exercise and healthy eating have to be No. 1 right up there with getting enough sleep. I have to have a social life, time with friends, time to reflect and do other things. If I don’t have these things, my writing well will dry up, and so will I.

This is not a plan or simply rumination. These are actions. I’ve been going to the gym or taking a long hike or walk almost every day and have lost more than 10 pounds this month. I’ve been eating better. I’ve been reconnecting with friends — and making plans to spend more time with them.  I am taking “weekends” now, days when I don’t write but do something fun. Yes, fun. I’m spending less time on the Internet. I’m trying to do things that are difficult and physically painful for me for the sake of feeling more independent. And it feels good!

Perhaps most exciting, I am starting to plan for a trip to Sweden, Denmark, and France this spring to visit family and friends. I want to spend time with my sister in Stockholm, to spend time with dear Danish friends I’ve known and loved since I was 17, to hang with Benjamin in France and visit the battlefields of World War I. Whether it will happen depends in part on things that aren’t entirely under my control, but I will do all I can to be airborne by May 2014.

I will be writing again starting tomorrow, working on the erotic prequel to Striking Distance, which I have titled First Strike. It tells the story of how Laura Nilsson and Javier “Cobra” Corbray, the couple from Striking Distance, meet in a hotel restaurant in Dubai and then spend the next three days in bed together having mind-blowing “no strings attached” sex — only to go their separate ways wishing there were strings.

I plan to have First Strike, an erotic e-novella, out to you by Oct. 1 so that you can get to know Laura and Javier intimately before their book comes out. And though I will still give my emotions over to my writing, I will actively work to keep balance in my life and to feel good each day no matter how many words I put on the page.

For the first time in a long time, I feel excited not about plans that might be years down the road but by the opportunities I have today.

Coming soon: 
Excerpts from Striking Distance
Some I-Team games
A MacKinnon’s Rangers audiobook giveaway
The cover reveal for First Strike

20 comments:

Pamela, this is such a wonderful, heart-wrenching post that I can hardly find the words to respond to it. Your plan for finding happiness and balance in your life is just, well, damn fantastic. Too often we let work, chores, the internet, whatever, consume us to the detriment of our health, our families, and a life that taps into the mysteries and beauties of the universe. You've inspired me to think more about achieving a healthy and happy way of living - you're a great role model, lady! Thank you!

I'm guessing Striking Distance will be one of your favorite books you've ever written, given all of the struggle in writing it. I can't wait to read it. But it does sound like you needed some down time after that drama. Did you decide to scrap a manuscript and start over? Painful!

I can totally relate to putting life on hold until the to-do list gets finished (and it never does). I'm trying to practice mindfulness skills to breathe and live more in the moment. Planning a trip to visit friends and family sounds lovely!

Jackie said...

I don't believe in 'stop living in the past.' It doesn't work that way. That's a message from the privileged position of someone who's never had these types of experiences. And it can feel hurtful, even from people who love us and truly want the best for our lives. If it's left you with any sense of negativity toward yourself I hope you'll be able to shake it off. Take the positive from the friend who loves you and wants you to be able to do exactly what you've outlined in this post, and reject any sense of shame that it left you with :). You are one of the strongest, most motivated, determined, non-victimish people I know. You've walked away from things that would have destroyed lesser people. That's the truth.

I DO, however, believe in everything you've outlined here and I'm so thrilled and so excited for you. Because this is platinum-level self care, the gold star of health and happiness. This is you fighting for the life you want and deserve. Not denying the pain or the damage, but saying, I deserve to have my life in spite of it, in spite of how it affects me every day. Which is absolutely true.

You're a treasure and an inspiration.

Cora said...

Your touching post reaffirms what I have been thinking about my own writing life. With only one novel under my belt, and sitting for hours working on the next, the health concerns came to the fore right away. I, too, took stock and knew I had to make changes so I wouldn't wreck my body in the process of writing. Gym, healthy eating, losing weight, keeping balance--all so important.

I am happy to hear you are making these positive changes because I love your writing and want to be able to read a lot more of your stories in the years ahead. Take care.

@Vanessa — Thanks so much! I’m glad it touched you. I think too many of us believe we are what we do. We forget the soul inside. We writers think we are our books, but we're not. I think being kinder to ourselves and better and steeping ourselves in the richness of life will probably make us better writers. :-)

@ Jennifer — I wrote the epilogue to STRIKING DISTANCE in a single stroke of inspiration — and then struggled with the rest, rewriting the first 10 or so chapters at least five times. It was agony. Whether it becomes one of MY favorites remains to be seen. Hopefully readers will enjoy it.

And, yes, that "to do" list isn't done until WE are done. And that's too long to wait to live.


@ Jackie — You are such an empathetic person! That is EXACTLY what I felt. Before the conversation was even over, I felt weighted down by a sense of absolute shame for the ways in which I am still affected by all of these things. I felt like a failure. Miraculously, I didn't cry when we were talking, but when I got home that's all I could do.

So thanks for saying that, because some part of me still carries — unwillingly — a sense of shame for being somehow "less than" because of the things that happened. It's hard to explain to someone who has never been sexually assaulted or beaten.

And thanks for the encouragement. I feel good about this new start and want to wake up every day with immediate joy as goal.

It reminds me of something my boxing coach used to say. At the start of one training session he asked how I was. I told him I wanted to jump off a bridge. He said, "OK, well, you can kill yourself later, but we're going to do some things that are going to make you feel good right now."

@ Cora — Good for you for recognizing this now! I'm 14 books in and 50 pounds heavier. Now I need to regain my health *while* writing. That's harder than holding onto it while writing. I wish you the best with both endeavors!

And thanks for your kind words! That means a lot to me. I hope to be here on this little planet for a while and have many more books I want to write.

Why is it that we let other things come before looking after our selves? Enjoy Europe, Pamela. You deserve it!

@ Jennie — Thank you so much! :-)

MicheleKS said...

Awesome blog entry. I don't have the traumatic past you have, Pamela but I spent almost twenty years in some sort of caregiver role. I sacrificed a lot (with no regrets about being a caregiver) but I also kept myself in a shell thinking I wasn't good enough or capable of doing so many things (there is a huge list of things I've never done). For me it's about not thinking about what other people think about me or my choices and doing things I like to do. I changed jobs last month and took a pay cut in the process because I've decided I don't need stress or drama in my life anymore. And I'm already a ton happier than I've been in a long time. I'm feathering my nest (my apartment) for the first time since I've been out on my own and enjoying every minute of it. I've kept up my exercise and continue to improve my eating habits. So yes, I believe happiness is possible and I believe it starts with the small things of daily living that put a smile on your face. As for me, if anyone doesn't like me being happy then it's their problem and not mine. I think a lot of us (especially women) live to expectations that are not our own whether it's society, family, or anything other than our own needs and desires. My choice to be a caregiver was called noble and heroic publically but criticized heavily in private (and unfortunately a lot of that criticism got back to me and after a while a lot of people quit hiding their true negativity from me). Learning to let go of the past is harder than hell but I believe it can be done and I think each person has to figure it out a way for themselves. But I believe if you take care of yourself first and find your happiness then the rest will start falling into place.

MIchele — I'm so sorry that people reacted to you in such a negative way. Sometimes I don't understand people. But you’ve made some amazing changes in your life, and it sounds like you're headed in the right direction. I'm really happy for you! I hope that those darker, difficult days fade away for you. I wish you the best with your new life! :-)

Pamela, this post has me in tears. But they're happy tears. I just want to ditto everything that Jackie said. I love the term platinum-level self-care! That's what you deserve, and I am so inspired and thrilled and happy to see how you've laid out this plan of action, this battle plan, to get the life you want and deserve. I'm so proud of you!

Thank you for sharing, Pamela. Your perseverance is inspiring. I think we often get bogged down in thinking of all the things we "should" be doing and forget to focus on ourselves. We can't escape the past--it is and always will be part of who we are--but we can't allow ourselves to be held hostage by it, either. Your re-commitment to make yourself a priority has allowed me to realize I can do the same. Thank you and good luck.

Antonia said...

Thank you for such an open, moving, inspiring post. As other people have said, it absolutely isn't anyone else's place to judge how, when, or even if we process, deal with, or heal from the damage we've sustained over the years (and you've certainly had far more than your share). Sometimes our daily coping mechanisms become so skilful, we may even forget about what lies underneath for a while, until something triggers it again. As a friend said to me the other day, you don't even realise what's happening until you take off the Kevlar and realise you've already been shot.

I clink the coffee mug of solidarity with you when it comes to the difficulty of balancing writing with exercise. My health, too, has suffered as a result of throwing myself into my writing for extended periods. Your positivity and commitment to making things better is fantastic, and I’m going to do my best to follow your good example! Sometimes I find it easier to make myself do things like go to the gym, or take a day off writing, by telling myself that the writing will be better for it – so the writing can be a motivation for the activity. It’s all about beating my brain at its own game. ;-) It’s never easy, but I wish all of us much success (there’s no such thing as perfection, and that’s okay too) in finding the balance that works for us, and having a damn good time along the way!

Lori Salas said...

You inspire me Pamela!!! Thank you!!

@ Norah — Thanks so much! You're such a sweetheart and a wonderful friend! I love that term, too — platinum-level self-care. Sounds good, doesn't it? Jackie has way with words. :-)

You've been such a support to me, Norah. Don't think for a moment I don't remember or appreciate that. You rock. <3

@ Brenda — Thank you! And very well said. We get bogged down and forget we were meant for happier, better things. I appreciate your good wishes. Same to you in all your endeavors. :-)

@ Antonia — ::raising coffee mug:: We learn as we go, and a jolt like this one helped me face what I wasn't seeing in my day-to-day survival mode.

And you're right — finding that life balance as a writer is never easy. I wish us both luck with that! Happy living. :-)

@ Lori — Thank so much, Lori. I'm happy to hear that.

Good morning, Pamela!

Good for you. No, great for you. You deserve to be shamelessly happy. We (especially Americans, women) feel our right to things must be earned. This work hard to gain great things is a beneficial mentality, however...

Everyone, even at their worst, deserves to make pursue their happiness. In some way.

Project Happiness is something we all could focus on. As a single mother (and various other things), you're used to putting yourself last. In our society, it's expected mothers are "last."

This is directly against Project: Happiness. You can be first. You should always, most definitely, at least be no later than fourth or fifth on all days (children, writing to pay the bills, friends, you).

I like to believe we're only as good as we are happy. (I have no idea if this is true.) But it's a nice motivation--the happier we are, the better we can give.

Lastly, Striking Distance is your best I-Team book to date. I've told you this before, but the day after reading SD, I felt as if *I* had lived the story and had been changed. That says a lot about you, your writing, and the book that cost you so much.

But Pamela, let me be clear. I would prefer never read something as emotional as SD again if it equals you forgetting Project: Happiness and your health.

Great stories can be crafted in our imaginations. We cannot replace you.

Aw, Kristin, you're so sweet!

You're a mom so you understand the way work and family pull you in different directions. When you're a single mom, you really don't get many chances to put yourself first. And, as you said, we women typically don't think that way anyway.

I'm so glad you enjoyed STRIKING DISTANCE so much! I hope everyone else does, too! It was a story worth fighting for, but between you and me and all of humanity, I really don't want to go through that again.

I laughed and giggled and had fun with EXTREME EXPOSURE. That's how I want my next book to be.

And thanks again! <3

Patty C. said...

Pamela, I am so glad I took the time to read this. You continually amaze me with your openness and honesty. Truly inspiring! I love your work so please do what you have to do to keep the books coming. Keep up the good work on your journey to better health!

Hi Pamela,

I am proud of you! Weekends off, fun, exercise, planning a getaway, putting yourself on a higher priority than your writing! Woo-hoo!

Pamela, thanks for sharing so deeply and honestly. I kept this blog update in my inbox until I had the time to read it...which ended up being today. I knew you would be full of wisdom and I wanted to fully absorb your message.

I also have learned that a plan does not equate action, but that a single step in a desired direction is a start. The second step is usually easier. Pride to be taken in action is worth celebrating! Taking a break is also okay. Good luck! Please be gentle with yourself.

Sending encouragement, hugs and high fives.

Heidi

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"I am an artist. I am here to live out loud."
—Emile Zola

"I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day."
—James Joyce

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery."
—Jane Austen

"Writers are those for whom writing is more difficult that it is for others."
—Ernest Hemingway

"When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth."
—Kurt Vonnegut

"The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar is the test of their power."
—Toni Morrison

"No tears in the author, no tears in the reader."
—Robert Frost.

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope."
—the character of Chaucer in
A Knight's Tale