Photos and fabulosity/ Remembering Vietnam and John McCain

With the passing of Senator John McCain, I was transported back to my first big solo trip at the Hanoi Hotel in 2012, when I began this blog.

Vietnam and Laos were appealing because they were inexpensive and beautiful. Plus, I’d worked with and around many people from Vietnam and Laos here in Alaska for the past 20 plus years. Why wouldn’t I want to see their home? But I made Hanoi home-base because of John McCain. I was drawn to the place where the senator had been held hostage for five long years during the Vietnam war.

It was something I won’t forget. And while I waited in a long and very quiet line to get in to the Hanoi Hilton, an American teen laughed and joked with his friend just ahead. Immediately, the armed guards perched nearby leapt to attention. I don’t know what they said, but I could tell from their expressions and tone that it wasn’t good. And it was something else I won’t forget.

In Vietnam, using Facebook, laughing in a solemn setting, and/or posting negative information online about  their government there can result in a myriad of consequences, including arrest. Which reminded me of how thankful I am to live in a country where we are able to make our own choices regarding media– social and otherwise–can chuckle at inappropriate times, and scrutinize our government without fear. All hard-won battles that many like John McCain fought to ensure.

I loved hearing the story of John McCain. That he was privileged, but found his his voice and his strength while suffering during the war, and then quickly reconnected with his sense of humor upon returning from Vietnam. An imperfect man with a strong sense of decency.

On the trip, I enjoyed time with my friend Jennifer who joined me from Ohio for a leg of the journey, and who insisted we hike the mountains of Sapa. I don’t like hiking and I really don’t like tours.

We had more fun than I could’ve imagined, and made new friends that I looked up in Australia a few years later.

So out of that one trip came a blog post, a deepened respect for freedoms that matter, and some lifelong friends.

Which leads me to today: It’s time to get out of my round-the-clock work rut and prep for new adventures. My daughters have had the audacity of doing fine on their own without me, and I’ve been forced to admit I’m sometimes mad at them for it.

The youngest is beginning a new fancy job next week, and my oldest has begun a new batch of courses at the university. I’m proud of them both.

So I’ve begun vlogging on YouTube and trying hard to learn how with an eye for promoting my writing and other loves.

And my next travel destination? Uruguay, with a quick jaunt to Argentina by ferry. I’ll go this winter and happily miss out on one of the holidays in the states. YAY!

Thank you for stopping by. I love getting your comments, concerns, and love that you chuckle with me and at me sometimes. You make my life richer.

XOXO,

Lizbeth

 

 

 

The Headlines We Can’t Ignore/Everyone Matters When Responding to Domestic Violence

 

 

 

 

The headlines keep coming.  

Buried between Chicago mass shootings and the primary elections and Denise Richards joining the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast (is that really news?), there they are.

This is one week. In one country.

Like many of you, I want to tune it out. Who wants to hear about something they can’t change?

Not me. And it’s not Domestic Violence Awareness Month until October anyhow, right?

But it’s impossible to ignore. Not only because of the brutality, but for the truths these stories underscore.

1) Domestic violence is not about a normal person with an anger management problem who takes it out on their intimate partner. It’s the deliberate use of emotional, physical, or sexual violence to gain control of an intimate partner. You only need glimpse the second story to see how carefully orchestrated the plane crash was. The husband was not crazed or out of control. Simply diabolical.

2) Children are not only victimized by witnessing violence, but too often harmed irreparably as they become collateral damage in the effort to hurt the mother.

I detailed my now-grown daughters’ experiences as both child-witnesses and as adult survivors in my memoir. It left scar-tissue that manifest in physical and psychological wounds. But at least they survived. Clearly, not all do.

3) And the third truth is one I stumbled upon quite by accident when setting out to read something cheerier. When researching travel writing opportunities, I came upon a wonderful story written by Ivana Haz titled A Sort of Homecoming.

I read her entire essay story before noticing the writing on the sidebar.

Editor’s note: The author of this story, Ivana Waz, and her son, Makani, were murdered in their Southern California home July 11. Authorities say Ivana’s husband shot them before turning the gun on himself.

A google search of her name revealed a series of articles on her and her son’s death, attributing it to her husband’s depression after his back injury. One entire article sympathized solely with him.

I guarantee you that Ivana Waz and her child were not killed by a back injury or depression.

Which brings me to my earlier question: Who wants to hear about something they can’t change?

The truth is, we can all make a positive difference in creating lasting change regarding abuse. When we learn about it, when we talk about it, how we talk about it, when we seek ways to get involved, we become a resource.

I decided just now to make a difference and donate several copies of my memoir, themed around intergenerational patterns of domestic violence, to my Methodist church for their silent auction, and will continue to volunteer at the local shelter. It’s not much, but it’s something I can do.

What will you do?

Do you know someone impacted by domestic violence? Call 1-800-799-SAFE.

Want to lend your time or resources to affecting global change? Consider attending a meeting at your local Zonta chapter or giving to the domestic violence agency near you.

For information about what to do when you witness or suspect domestic violence, look at your local Green Dot Program.

Together, we can make a difference.

      

Love at the Speed of Email-Interview with Author Lisa McKay

After sailing through her fascinating memoir in which issues of love, faith, work, and passion are examined, I interviewed author Lisa McKay. Lisa, who presently lives in Laos, answers questions about Love At the Speed of Email as well as the writing process, and her thoughts on traditional versus self-publishing. 

Below is an excerpt from her book.

What drives any of us to stick with something for years when it’s not a constant carnival? 

For many, a need to pay the rent and eat, clearly. But that’s not all. Few of us who live in the Western world must do exactly what we do to feed and clothe ourselves. Many times our career choices are really more influenced by a cocktail of duty, fear, apathy, talent, priorities, and passion. Alternate lives, at least one or two of them, often lie within reach.

  Thank you so much for your time, Lisa!

Can you describe LOVE AT THE SPEED OF EMAIL for us?

Love At The Speed Of Email is the story of an old-fashioned courtship made possible by modern technology. Here’s the back cover text:
Lisa looks as if she has it made. She has turned her nomadic childhood and forensic psychology training into a successful career as a stress management trainer for humanitarian aid workers. She lives in Los Angeles, travels the world, and her first novel has just been published to some acclaim. But as she turns 31, Lisa realizes that she is still single, constantly on airplanes, and increasingly wondering where home is and what it really means to commit to a person, place, or career. When an intriguing stranger living on the other side of the world emails her out of the blue, she must decide whether she will risk trying to answer those questions. Her decision will change her life.
While writing your memoir, you split your time between humanitarian work in several countries while being newly married. When did you actually find time to actually do the writing?
It was a challenge (although I must say I think it’s usually a challenge to find/make time to write, no matter where you’re at in life). I wrote the first draft during our first year of marriage. Mike was away for about a third of the year working on consultancies in different countries, so I had several months of free evenings. I was also only working four days a week – I had previously made the decision to drop down to 80% schedule and take a 20% paycut to concentrate on my writing. (Here I should pause to say that although that did cost us financially, it was a decision I never regretted. I loved having that extra time on Fridays).
The 2nd and 3rd drafts were a lot easier to find time to work on – we’d just moved to Laos, and apart from doing some consulting all I had on my hands was time. That first nine months in Laos was a huge luxury for me in that regard.
What’s the hardest part of taking your relationship, analysing it, and putting it into a book for all to read?
The hardest part of writing about my relationship with the man who is now my husband was figuring out what to leave out. We had written each other 90,000 words worth of letters before we ever met, and that was just the start of the raw material I had to work with.
Writing about my previous relationships was harder. One chapter, in particular, I must have rewritten a dozen times. I went over that story over and over again, trying to pin down what had happened during that time and, in particular, my own contribution to the unhealthy dynamics of that relationship.
How was the process of writing memoir different than writing fiction?
When I was writing my first novel (My Hands Came Away Red) I found myself getting surprised by what was happening. As I figured out the “what” of plot, however, an understanding my character’s actions and reactions followed fairly naturally.
Writing a memoir reversed this process. I already knew what happened – I’d lived it – but I had to work much harder to figure out what it all meant to me, then and now.
The plotting process was different, too. With the novel I wrote my way into the story blind, without an outline. As I wrote, the story gained momentum as events unfolded.
In contrast, I had a clear vision for the start and end of the memoir, but little idea of how I was going to get from one place to the other. Despite repeated outlines I continued to flounder in the middle until the very final drafts of the manuscript.
How has the process of promoting your self-published book been different than your traditionally published novel, MY HANDS CAME AWAY RED? What role has blogging played?
Self-publishing’s been more work than I had anticipated, taken more time, and has cost me more money. How’s that for a depressing summary?
In all seriousness, I don’t regret having self-published this book. I’ve learned a huge amount through this experience that I’m sure will serve me well. However, I also have even more respect for the role played by traditional publishing companies now. The editing and mentoring I received during the process of publishing my first book was invaluable – I am so grateful to all the staff involved in that process.
A word about money on this topic … Proponents of self-publishing often ridicule the royalty rates that traditional publishers pay (often in the range of 17%), and there is perhaps room for those to be increased. But on many versions of my self-published books I’m not earning a huge amount more than that. Amazon, for example, only pays you 35% on kindle downloads from a whole bunch of countries instead of the 70% it pays when a US customer downloads your e-book. Sure, that’s double what you’d earn if you had been published by a traditional company, but you’re also out there working to sell books without the benefit of marketing or publicity help unless you pay for it. (If you want to think more about money, jump on over to a pair of posts I wrote recently about costs and earnings associated with self-publishing. Here’s the link to the first one, Let’s talk money: What it cost me to self-publish my book). 
As for the role blogging has played … the blog has been a useful forum for helping me process the self-publishing journey and keeping people up to date. I also have no doubt that I’ve already reached more people with this story because I keep an active blog than I would without it. But I don’t have a huge audience by blog standards. I’m not nearly a mega-blogger, and it’s the mega-bloggers who are in a position to sell thousands of books just through the power of their own blog. So blogging for me has been something I do because I want to more than anything else, not a calculated publishing move.
Do you have any words of advice for others who want to write a memoir?
Screeds have been written on this topic, but here are a couple of points I tried to keep in mind:
Tell a story: When I started writing this memoir I thought I might be able to “glue together” a whole bunch of essays and blog posts I’d previously written and call it a book. A friend and editor bluntly told me that I was neither famous nor good enough to get away with that yet and that I had to tell a coherent story if I wanted to write a memoir. He was right. If you want to write a memoir and you don’t know anything about story arc, google it (for starters).
Write into the unknown: I don’t know who it was that said that if the author hadn’t discovered anything during the course of the book the reader likely wouldn’t either, but it’s stuck with me. If you want to write a memoir be prepared to do some soul searching and struggling to put into words some of your shadows and your fears. Work to learn about yourself while you’re writing.
Take your time: I know some people can write a book in a couple of months. I’m not one of them. My work is always stronger when I’m prepared to edit, edit, edit, and let it sit and breathe between drafts.
I’d love to hear about the Lao charities you support, and what you’re working on next.
A portion of my profits on this book will be going to support charities operating here in Laos. The two I have in mind at present are two organizations that focus on literacy and education, Pencils of Promise and the Luang Prabang Boat Library. Pencils of Promise builds schools and trains teachers. The Library Boat carries books up and down the Mekong to villages that can only be accessed by boat.

As for what I’m working on next, I’m not sure. Long term I know I want to write more books, but not in the next couple of months! A couple of things I know I will do in the next six months is guest posting to help get the memoir off the ground and starting to write more on the topic of long distance relationships. If you have a blog and you’d like me to guest post for you, do let me know! I’d love to hear from you. 

Lisa McKay can be reached at www.lisamckaywriting.com

 

Snippets of Beauty

I’d like to share some moments of beauty in my weekend.

I joined friends for a gorgeous kayaking trip for several hours in Prince William Sound this past weekend. Paddling through cool waters with nothing but the sound of glaciers calving was as calming as a massage.

Returning home, I spent time with my oldest daughter and her boyfriend for her birthday. (Thank you for the many of you who wished her well!). I’d love to report that she’s doing brilliantly and is finding her place in this chaotic beautiful world. But it isn’t so.

I think all parents have times where they struggle with how to let their grown kids be themselves and to celebrate them just as they are. To let go just enough. Enough so their adult child feels the love and support and pride from their parent. Enough to let the child be accountable for their choices without too much buffering from the parent. Enough to continue hoping without judgment and expectation.

My oldest daughter, like firstborns everywhere, has absorbed so much more of my missteps than her younger sister. When she hurts, I feel a stabbing pain, accompanied by defensiveness.

Self-care, like spending time with friends, kayaking, with a splash of detachment and a good bit of faith that things will turn out as they should, all help. That, and writing.

So that’s what’s up in my neck of the world this week.How about you?

If you have a favorite picture I’ve posted in this, please let me know. I’ll send it to Holland America’s photo contest.

Thank you. I’m always glad you’re here.

 

The Balancing Act: Working Tourism, Writing, and Working

Remember a while back when I mentioned I’d be working in tourism this summer?

I work in Whittier on Saturdays, an hour and a half drive from my home in Anchorage. I wanted to try a side hustle that fit neatly in to my already full workweek.

In a perfect world, this would be a job I return to after I retire and spend winters out-of-state or move altogether. It would allow me a connection to Alaska while keeping my brain engaged learning new skills, and hopefully earning me some travel credits for winter.

And in my imperfect world, this job would help me be a part of someone’s good experience. Having worked as a battered women’s advocate, a child abuse investigator, and now a juvenile probation supervisor, I’m ready to bring smiles instead of misery. And to enhance visitors’ trips to Alaska. It’s also a way for me to experience second-hand travel. All the excitement, none of the worries.

From the long cozy ride to the port with seven other workers to the crowded lines of stressed-out passengers, there is a theme of belonging. Maybe it’s the uniforms. Or maybe it’s the constant push to get people moved from train or bus to ship, or how we greet passengers. “Thank you for coming to Alaska,” or “Welcome to Whittier.” And then cram back into the van for another hour and a half drive.

There are lots of fun times. And there are a lot of other times. It’s very satisfying to stay in motion rather than sitting at a desk all day, and to help people with short-term, easy problems.I work with some terrific people, mostly women from young ones in their 20’s to others in their 80’s. We represent the full spectrum, and I love hearing their stories—of gardening, of fishing, of husbands and grandkids and pets. I couldn’t ask for a better group.

That said, I don’t have as much energy as I once did. I may need to re-think this plan until I actually have retired.

But there’s something so exciting about traveling, whether it’s going on a trip to a place I’ve never been, or hearing about someone else’s wild experience coming to Alaska. I think travel is better in the planning and in the retelling. I know I’m not alone when I say that while it’s exhilarating to reach a travel goal, amazing to keep the new friendships made, it’s just plain scary at times to be an uninvited guest in someone else’s yard.

So I’ll book a trip to a destination soon in South America. It’s long been my goal to hit all continents by 60. Time is moving fast.  When each continent is complete, a book of travel essays with a companion guide of how to travel on a slim budget will result.

In the meantime, I’ve began vlogging on YouTube, giving Alaskan tourists some travel hints, and introducing readers to characters in my stories, past and future. Alaska is a big character in my memoir. More than a simple setting, Alaska has been an adoptive parent.

I’ve continued to do interviews about Pieces of Me from home on podcasts and in publications, and work with an editor to completely renovate my forthcoming novel.

If you have questions or comments about Alaska, about travel, feel free to drop me a line. And if you’re so inclined, feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel.

And please say hello if you pass through Whittier some Saturday afternoon, where I will say,”Welcome. I’m glad you’re here.”

And I mean it. Thanks for stopping by.

Preventing Domestic Violence/Interview with Dr.Sally Dorman


M
My longtime friend, Dr. Sally Dorman, will return to Alaska next week for a summer visit.

Twenty-something years ago, I worked at an agency that served battered women and children. Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis. Sally was one of my favorite coworkers. We worked in the trenches together with other dynamic staff members, facilitating groups for battered women, creating school curricula for grades K-12 on family violence, and giving countless school presentations on the topic.

In the late ’90s, Sally moved out of Alaska to advance her education, and I became a social worker. We lost touch. Two years ago, we reconnected through Facebook.

Today, Sally is Dr. Dorman, a school psychologist in Maryland specializing in violence prevention programming. Her research on the impact of training school personnel to recognize the signs of childhood exposure to domestic violence was funded through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and  published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. in 2008.

Thank you Dr. Dorman, and welcome!

How did you go from working with battered women and children in the battered women’s shelter to the violence prevention work you do today?

I did clinical work for my master’s degree at a community health center while attending Mansfield University for a degree in Community Clinical Psychology. As a part of that, I worked at a local community mental health center for my internship, which got me thinking of the dire need for mental health promotion and prevention.

After the prevention work we did back in the day, it was only natural that my interests lie in violence prevention and decided to enter a doctoral program in school psychology. I wanted to do the prevention work through policy change.

What kinds of projects have you worked on to address kids affected by domestic violence?

I worked on a coordinated community response around domestic violence in western New York.  We used a public health model, looking at primary, secondary, and tertiary responses. The response focused on getting everyone in the community to realize domestic violence is a problem, and we all have a role in solving that problem.

As an example, if the police respond to a home in which 8 year-old Suzi is a child witness of domestic violence, they’ll make an arrest if applicable, and give community referrals to the family to address their concerns. The officer would notify Suzi’s school staff the next day so that they can follow up with Suzi to make sure she has counseling or supportive services that she needs at school.

With the coordinated community response, everyone in a community has a role in the intervention and will have training to know what that role is. The state of Texas has a project that outlines agency roles related to domestic violence. It is very innovative.

What’s the focus of educators today with regards to children exposed to domestic violence?

The study I worked on for OJJDP demonstrated the importance of giving educators information on how to recognize kids exposed to domestic violence and how to respond individually, in the classroom, and school wide through policy. It was important because those same kids were being mislabeled as having ADHD, and were getting medicated for symptoms that mimicked ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity, inattention to classroom work, and fidgety when they may be reacting to trauma.

I’m at a the US Department of Education’s Safe and Healthy Students conference right now, and yesterday, the topic of bullying was being covered. The definition given for bullying was just about the same as the definition of domestic violence; when one person uses emotional or physical force to gain control of another person. The behavior has to be repeated, intentional, and used to gain control in both cases.

That really surprised me, and I think we’ll be hearing more about the link between domestic violence and bullying in the future.

Please give some examples of how we can support kids we suspect are witnessing the abuse of one of their parents by an intimate partner.

I think it’s important to let them know that if abuse is happening, it’s not their fault. Domestic violence is an adult issue, and it’s not theirs to fix. Let the child know you believe him/her, and tell them where they can get support.

For more information about a coordinated community response to domestic violence, go to or Close to Home.

Please Like my author Facebook page by clicking. Thank you!

Saying Goodbye to Page 139/Remembering Judge Ira Uhrig


Bellingham Police Department

At times, something long-expected arrives unexpectedly.

I’d been deliberately scaling back on Facebook in May. Partly to manage my writing time better and largely to reduce anxiety, for a while, I embraced the calm.

And then, I had a sick feeling. I’d not heard from my old friend Ira in a couple of weeks, even after writing him twice about his birthday.

I pulled up his Facebook profile, and there it was.

His death announcement.

***

It never occurred to me that my dear friend would not be there to speak with me about the death of my dear  friend. It never dawned on me that I would find out on social media that his non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma he’d fought for years was finally over.

I met Ira Uhrig when I was 19. He was a young lawyer in the town where I first attended college. A friend set us up on a blind date, and while I wasn’t mature enough then to understand that a loyal, humorous, intelligent, artistic, compassionate, and hard-working person could indeed be the catch of a lifetime, we became instant and lifelong friends. (Not too much later, a lovely mutual friend was smart enough to realize what I didn’t, and wisely scooped him up!)

Ira tried to teach me to drive back then. He failed. Ira tried to teach me guitar back then. Again, failure. Ira then searched for my long-lost father. And that was a huge success.

In June of 1985, I met my father and so many more siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins than I knew existed. What a lifelong game-changer. Ira thanked me for the opportunity, and after every family reunion I have attended since then, he’d been so ecstatic to get my family’s updated photos.

Ira had his own chapter in my memoir in its early drafts. By the time the final edits were complete, he was mentioned in a page, a fact he loved to tease about. He couldn’t have been more supportive, buying copies of Pieces of Me for friends and colleagues alike, asking them if they wanted him to autograph his page.

I will miss getting daily Facebook updates on what happened on this day in history. I will miss Ira’s corny jokes and frequent YouTube forwards of old gospel or country music. I will miss his words of encouragement, his genuine interest in all of the people in his world, hearing stories about his work as a judge, and the updates about his large and talented family.

Last year, after a Seattle book reading/signing event at the University, I took a train to see Ira one last time. It felt like a goodbye. But then he bounced back. It seemed as though he was beginning to make gains on his health concerns.

At times, something long-expected arrives unexpectedly. And the hurt inflicted is both dull and sharp.

Ira’s death is sad for his family, the Whatcom County community,  and for all who knew him. 

I read that death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.

Thank you, Ira Uhrig, for not only reuniting me with my father, my birth name, and my family, but for decades of memories. I will hold them close, forever.

Author Interview with Lisbeth Coiman/I Asked the Blue Heron

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

A perfect time to spotlight author Lisbeth Coiman’s memoir, I Asked the Blue Heron.  

Lisbeth’s new memoir is described as covering the trauma of abuse, the joys of motherhood, and the challenges of immigration alongside the vagaries of mental illness — and the power of a friendship that saw her through it all. I Asked the Blue Heron begins with a simple sentence:

 I was 16 when my mother chased me with a hammer.

Q. Did you always know that this would be the beginning line of your book?

A. No. I didn’t know that was the beginning of the book. When I started writing my story, my writing teacher at the time, Theo Pauline Nestor, suggested to start there, but I contradicted her and decided I didn’t want to make my book about my childhood experiences. Instead, I wanted to honor my friend for guiding me for most of my adult life. With that in mind I started the book with the moment I met Zoe Graves.

I finished my manuscript, revised it the best I could, and started sending it out to publishers. A year later, I was disappointed and frustrated with the rejections, and vented on Facebook. I was extremely lucky. Out of the blue, a Los Angeles poet I admire, Ashaki Jackson, offered to have a look at my book. On the first note she wrote, “move this line to the opening page.” Still I refused. She said, “mine are only suggestions. This is your book.”

Many more hours of editing down the road, I started looking for other writers to blurb my book. I reached out to Suzanne Finnamore, author of Split. The same night she received the manuscript she wrote me back a beautiful email that I will keep in safe box for the rest of my life. She started saying, “your book starts with this line. This is your voice.”

It was the third time somebody pointed it out to me, so it was time to pay attention. It took a while to rewrite the first chapter, but I kept an eye on my schedule and worked night and day to do it. It changed the focus of the book completely, but I hope my story still honors my mentor and best friend.

Q. How have you promoted I Asked the Blue Heron.

A. I have found that book promotion is the hardest part of self-publishing. I still don’t have it under control.

I network a lot, and I’m grateful to several reading series in Los Angeles for inviting me to read from my book. I have promoted online, through social media, and through my blog. I’m constantly speaking about “I Asked the Blue Heron” to anybody I meet. For that purpose I carry it in the trunk of my car.

I will have more time this summer for book promotion, and plan to travel to a few cities in the US and Canada to promote my memoir.  I have been lucky. People keep inviting me to events. This week, for instance, I will attend a meeting in Torrance, CA  to tell my story and bring my memoir with me.

In July, I will speak to the congregation of a Unitarian Church in Redondo Beach. Little by little, by word of mouth, one book at the time, I continue to sell it.

Q. You’ve bravely shared your experience with mental illness. Can you give a few tips for others experiencing mental illness?

A. Stay on top of symptoms. If I tell my doctor, “I’m fine,” and I look fine, the doctor doesn’t have any way to know I am spiraling down (or up). I can’t wait until I believe helicopters with cameras are chasing me on the street to get the doctor’s attention, say, on a psychotic episode. Those things don’t start full-blown. Subtle symptoms show up before a crisis, and if treated on time, I can prevent crisis. Catching my symptoms requires honesty and understanding of my condition. If I know that I have a tendency to become paranoid, and I feel that NPR is talking about me, I have to tell my doctor as soon as possible. I’ll require smaller doses of medication to treat mild symptoms than those required to treat a full-blown mental crisis.

B. Work or volunteer. I have to do something that requires to wear clothes other than pajamas during the day, and get out of my house early in the morning. A well-earned pay check at the end of the month feels much better than medication, and doesn’t have side effects.

When I couldn’t find a job because I didn’t have a specific certificate, I went back to school to get the certificate. When I wasn’t able to work because of my immigration status, I volunteered. I shelved books in my son’s school library, planted flowers in a public garden, gave water to runners in 5K events, or taught English As a Second Language free. I kept myself busy to change the focus of my thoughts.  Human beings need to feel useful and appreciated. I suffer from a mental condition that makes me feel like crap, and if I don’t find a reason to get out of my bed, I feel worse. Apart from money, satisfaction, and a sense purpose, volunteer or paid job also provides me with a starting point to become part of a community.

C. Structure. Structure helps me live through my days with a sense of normalcy. People who do not understand my condition may think I am fastidious, or compulsively organized. I’m neither, but I want to prevent crisis. I prepare the entire wardrobe to wear each day of the week on Sundays because I freak out and cry if I don’t know what to wear in a hurry (which looks like Monday morning for every other woman I know, only they don’t become paralyzed.) I do shopping lists even to buy underwear because I can’t decide and get frustrated. I take pictures of where I park my car and where I enter malls because I get lost and panic. I have a large planner and know exactly what I will do every hour of the day. If I don’t, I literally walk around in circles. I write to do lists every day. Most importantly, because I live alone, and I’m responsible for my life, I have a Safety Plan posted on the refrigerator door, above my bed, and above my desk. If I start considering to harm myself, I have a plan to safe myself from harm. Nobody is with me to watch over me.

Still, there are things that are beyond my control, but I keep working on them. Self-destructive thoughts and unpredictable reactions when I am extremely frustrated continued to be a challenge for me.

To reach Lisbeth Coiman to book an author event or to find out more about her story, you may find her here. I Asked the Blue Heron is available here in both kindle and paperback.

Inspired by Mothers

With Mother’s Day approaching, I’ve been thinking about my daughters more than usual.

Then I saw the movie Tully yesterday. Without giving away the storyline, it made me think about what my younger self would say to me now about how the journey of motherhood has transformed my life.

When writing memoir, most classes on the topic will ask the opposite. They ask the student to consider what he/she would say to the younger self. What would you now like to tell the younger you about life, now that you know better? What encouragement or cautions would you dispense?

But now, as I flip through old photo albums, I’m left wondering: What would the 20 year-old me say to the older me as I wobbled through the different stages of my kids’ lives? What would she say to the 53 year-old empty-nester I am now? What would her insight be about motherhood if she knew how it would all turn out?

I remember (not always fondly) thinking that I’d never sleep all night again, or take an uninterrupted shower, or have time and money for self-indulgences like reading a book in bed for hours or getting a pedicure. I wondered then if I would ever find a profession or learn to write and become an author, an out-of-range wish I’d dreamed of.

I also remember the fun. Being a broke single mom and implementing a no-shoulds Friday. After a long week of following all the rules, the girls and I ate unhealthy food, stayed up late watching too much television, and they slumbered in my room. When they got too old for it, we had doughnut and chocolate milk Fridays before I dropped them off to school.

I’m pretty confident  the pre-mom me would say to take it one day at a time. To let the dishes sit in the sink longer to simply enjoy the sight of my little girls as they played. As they fought. I’m sure the younger me would advise me not to take the girls’ teen rebellion so seriously and so personally, and to hold my tongue more often. She would want me to have faith that everything would turn out alright. Not picture-perfect, but as they should. And she would want me to use restraint when offering a steady stream of advice to my now 30-ish daughters.

This role will change your life, the young me would say. You will raise a person so much and so little like you. It will be the best and the worst thing that ever happened to you. This role will bring out your finest and scariest qualities, and provide so many opportunities to refine them.

Happy Mother’s Day to us all. To the mothers who pushed through labor and fell in love with the homeliest and yet most beautiful little human the world has ever seen. To the mothers who pushed through months and years of paperwork and investigations to adopt. To the mothers who married into the role, raising someone else’s children as her own.  And to the men and women who enjoyed mothers or survived mothers, and who may be now mothering their mother, Happy Mother’s Day.  

Don’t wait for someone else to make it special. Treat yourself.

 

 

 

And before I now dash off to my pedicure, did I mention my memoir is now an audiobook? Thank you Vibrance Press and Suzie Althens for the narration. Thank you to Alaska Writer’s Guild and Eleanor Andrews for the nudge. If you buy it, would you please review the audiobook online?

And I’ll be interviewed today as Writer of the Week by Universal By Design and will post the link later, thanks to a tip by author Rebecca Gay Smith Galli of Rethinking Possible: A Memoir of Resilience.

Finally, the Taylor Stevens Show will kindly look at my new novel at my request to explain writing in the third person this week. I may have to rewrite the book, but better to know now. It will be as fun as getting on the scale in front of a room full of people at a Weight Watchers meeting, but she’s such a great writer that I’m fortunate to have her ear.

Thank you for stopping by. I know you have many other things you do with your time, and I’m very grateful to be included.

Lizbeth

The Calm Before the Summer

It’s hard to believe it’s already mid-April.

In Alaska, we went from 20-something degrees to 50-something almost overnight, and I couldn’t be happier. There’s still enough darkness at night to fall asleep, and enough warmth put my winter boots and coats away. As I write this, I’m sitting in a sunny atrium at the local university, watching college students walking around outside in their shorts.

No one appreciates springtime more than sun-starved Alaskans!

A few bears have awoken early and been seen in the city, and the moose are getting ready to calve. It’s a time to stay alert while enjoying a stroll in the beautiful outdoors.

I’m also gearing up for a busy summer. In the spirit of transitioning to retirement, I’ll be working at Holland America/Princess Cruise lines on the weekend in addition to my job in probation. If I like it, I may continue the work fulltime seasonally beginning in summer 2021 no matter where I live in the winters. If I don’t, I’ll finish the season and likely have great stories to write about. Plus I’ll make minimum wage and work with a crew that are even older than I am, so I’ll feel like a kid again. A real win/win.

So in the interim, I’m trying to get stuff done around the house. And I’m writing a little more, sending work to my editor, and appreciating this period of quiet.

I was invited to participate in both National Library Week and Crime Victims Rights Week, and can I tell you how much fun I had at both?


 

It never ceases to amaze me how many non-monetary benefits being an author has. I continue to meet lovely and inspiring people at events I speak at. And did I mention there’s free food? I ate some unidentified appetizers last night and a chocolate cake that was life-changing. And people I’ve never met email me, telling me their stories and how mine intersected with theirs. I once had a man write after his relationship ended to say he’d considered taking his son from the child’s mother to bypass government red-tape and to retaliate for their parting, but decided against it after reading the long-term impact on my own daughters.

That was a wonderful note to receive.

And I’ve written an essay on the challenge of letting adult kids live their own lives called Conscious Unhovering. It’s early draft won a contest an netted me $100! (Nothing to sneeze at for a freelancer today). Stay tuned to my author Facebook to see which blog or magazine publishes it!

Thank you for your support and for staying in touch here with me.

Truly yours,

Lizbeth