Read an Ebook week!

Did you know that today kicks off Read an Ebook Week? As part of this, Smashwords (an e-book distribution platform that handles my books) is having a sale! For the month of March, The Unravelling of Abby Settel and Breathing Space will be available at 25% off their regular price. That means that you can download them for only $2.99! If you haven’t read them yet, this is the perfect opportunity for you to do so.

Purchase The Unravelling of Abby Settel here and use the code EBW25 at checkout to get your 25% discount.

 

 

 

 

Purchase Breathing Space here and use the code EBW25 at checkout to get your 25% discount.

 

 

 

 

Happy reading!

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A Small World Story

Recently I accompanied Mr. M on a business trip to Nashville. My plan was to explore the city while he was at meetings. Alas, it rained for most of the three days we were there, which dampened my walking explorations somewhat; nonetheless I did get out enough to experience the ambience of Nashville. Our hotel was right downtown, around the corner from Broadway St., which is nicknamed Nashville’s “Honky Tonk Highway,” and for good reason! Bars and restaurants line both sides of the street (as do boot stores!), and every one of them had a live performance going on all day and all night long it seemed. The doors and windows were open in almost every establishment, so country music was blasted at your ears from both sides of the street, in front of you and behind. Talk about immersion into live country music!

 

On a calmer note, we visited a craft fair (at an outdoor park in the rain!), where we enjoyed seeing the works of craftsmen/women from all over the U.S. In addition, I visited a couple of art galleries: the Frist Art Museum which had a wonderful exhibit entitled “Paris 1900,” displaying artwork and artifacts from the turn of the century in Paris; and the Carl Van Vechten Gallery in Fisk University.

To find the latter, I walked forty-five minutes through various neighbourhoods in the city (the rain had stopped temporarily). I had gone there specifically to see their permanent collection of Georgia O’Keefe works. Imagine my disappointment when I was told that the Georgia O’Keefe collection was out on loan. Ah well. On the return walk to our hotel, I passed the farmers market (of course I stopped in) and walked along the river. The sun actually came out (for about an hour!) and the trek back was a pleasant enough adventure, not to mention logging close to 20,000 steps on my Fitbit that day!

However, my reason for blogging today is not to tell you about the places I visited in Nashville, although apparently I have done that anyway. Rather it’s to tell you about an encounter I experienced that brought to mind the six degrees of separation theory.

On one of the days I went for lunch to a restaurant called Merchant’s, and as it was very busy and I was alone, I sat at the bar to eat my meal. Beside me was a woman enjoying lunch with her husband. She was a very friendly woman, and we struck up a conversation. We covered many topics–what was good to order on the menu, relating to adult children, caring for aging parents, enjoying grandmotherhood, just to name a few. I was delighted to learn that they were visiting Nashville from Ontario, Canada (which is where I was from before moving to Bermuda). She had lived in the town of Brantford all her life. I have never lived in Brantford, but mentioned that one of my good friends from university was from there. I’d lost touch with her years before, and had recently discovered that she’d passed away in 2008. But in our early mothering years I’d known her children, even stayed at her parents home a few times during our university days. My jaw dropped when the woman beside me said she’d known Kerry too, had been a neighbour of hers, and their sons had played hockey together.

How is it that two people connected by a friend from our pasts, manage to sit beside each other at a bar in Nashville? It’s a small world indeed.

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Laying the Foundation for a Story

I’m working on a project that is inspired by a letter my mother wrote about one of her experiences during the Second World War.The Nazis invaded and occupied The Netherlands in 1940; my mother was sixteen at the time. The occupation lasted five long years and the Dutch population suffered more than the average person knows.  Throughout her lifetime, my mother rarely talked about those years, and when she did she glossed over details of what life was really like then. So when she handed me the letter a few years before her death, it was like she was giving me a gift.

At the time, my life was quite full and preoccupying–three teenagers to raise, a masters thesis to write, a studio of students to teach–so I filed it away, thinking the story she wrote about would be a great novel to write some day. And I promptly forgot about it.

Now, many years later, I was struggling to find a writing project and my mother’s gift called to me. But her letter, like her stories while she was alive, was vague and lacked many details. As a fiction writer, this shouldn’t present a problem. I’m writing fiction after all. I love making up characters and details, filling in gaps with made-up stories. Yet, within my storytelling, I want to remain true to my mother’s tale by presenting life as it truly was during that horrific time.

Until I started my research, my knowledge of the Nazi occupation of Holland was very limited. What I have discovered through books and writings by people who lived in Holland during those years is nothing short of sobering. Understanding what my parents and their families and friends lived through has given me some insight into the people they were in later years. I regret not being able to talk to them now, wanting not only to learn, but to simply listen and  hug them.

Friends ask me how my book is coming, knowing I’ve embarked on a new project. It’s difficult to answer that question since I have yet to write the first word of chapter one. Research has taken my writing time these past months, but it is laying the foundation for a story that I hope my mother would be pleased I wrote. My head has been filling up with characters and settings. Soon they will find their way onto a page.

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Look up to see the view

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Yesterday I was chopping vegetables for dinner, focusing on the task at hand, although my mind was working through a problem in the novel I’m writing, and I was humming along with Van Morrison who happened to be singing from my playlist. I was in a kind of multi-tasking scenario.

The air outside was warm and breezy, so I had the door open to our patio, and the birds were singing along with Van Morrison too.

So there I was chopping carrots and I happened to look up. The late afternoon sun shone on the patio furniture outside and illuminated the blue waters of the Great Sound. I was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be alive, to be living where I do, to have a life where I can look up from chopping vegetables and see this. I had to put my knife down and step outside, breathe in the air, feel the sun on my face, and stare at that azure water.

Those few minutes in my day made me realize that I need to look up to see the view more often. We all do. Sometimes we get so focused on the tasks at hand, or lose ourselves on the Internet, or get caught up in the day to day detritus of our lives, that we forget to take time to experience the world around us.

So I challenge you. Right now. Stop what you’re doing and look up to see the view. Do you see something interesting?

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Getting Organized

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We’re almost through September. Summer is definitely over, and if you’re like me, September feels like a New Years month, even more than January first. I guess that feeling stems from school days, when you stock up on new supplies, start a new class schedule with new teachers. Now, even though it’s been a long time since I had anything to do with a September school start, I still feel like September offers a fresh start with a clean slate.

My summer was a very hectic and full one, and I fell behind in most of my author tasks and art projects. My novel-in-progress gathered dust while my paints dried up in the cupboard and my camera sat unused in its case. To complicate things, we moved house in the middle of August. So this September really did represent a fresh start for me, with everything in a new place and a new spot to write.

However before I could settle myself and get back to my writing, I needed to organize my workspace. When my environment isn’t in order, I don’t feel calm enough to be creative. I know that creativity sometimes comes from chaos, but that’s not the way I work. My imagination only gets fired up when my world and my life is organized. “A place for everything and everything in its place” calms me and gets my creative juices to flow.

Can you guess what I’ve been doing this September? After spending the past month and a half settling our new home and my new workspace, I finally feel that my world is in order and I can focus on being an author again. I’m excited to get back to work on my novel.

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Website Update

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See that post-it note graphic? I had one like it stuck to my desktop monitor for several weeks, after a friend informed me that the style of my website was passé and that I should update it to keep up with the times. Did you know that there is a fashion to websites? I didn’t, and have happily kept my website looking the same for several years.

But I took my friend’s advice to heart, and redesigned it to be a clean, clutter-free site. I’ve been working on it all last week, and am very pleased with its new look. Drop by and let me know what you think: www.sylviamay.com

 

 

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Monday, Monday

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Mondays always get a bum rap. Monday means the weekend is over, the work week starts, the alarm goes, life gets crazy.

I actually like Mondays. It’s a clean slate each time, the first day of another week filled with activities, accomplishments, even adventures.

Perhaps that sentiment comes from the fact that I am basically retired. Oh yes, I write, but I do that on my own schedule (sometimes I don’t even do it at all!). It occurs to me that I didn’t always love Mondays when I was a busy mom, when I worked full-time, when our family calendar was over-filled with activities and commitments.

One thing I do know is that Mondays are always better when I go to bed on Sunday night feeling organized and on top of things. Usually I spend an hour or so each Sunday planning out my week, preparing whatever needs to be prepared (in my teaching days it was the week’s curriculum), organizing to-do lists, plotting out my schedule. After doing this I feel in control of whatever the week might throw at me.

So here I am this Monday morning, sitting at my desk with my to-do list beside me, feeling very motivated and on top of things. I will glow with a sense of accomplishment each time I cross something off that list. This feeling will last throughout my day, because on Mondays I can do anything.

Tuesday, however, is a whole other story…

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Feeling grateful

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Gratitude seems to be a buzzword these days. Whatever you read, wherever you go, people talk about how practising gratitude can have untold benefits and change your life.

Practising gratitude involves taking time to notice and reflect upon the things that you’re thankful for. According to scientific studies, incorporating this into your daily life will have you experiencing more positive emotions, express more compassion and kindness, and even sleep better.

This doesn’t surprise me as I have always believed that appreciating one’s advantages is a value one must insert into one’s daily life, and appreciation can’t help but life one’s mood. The trouble is that when challenges crop up, I tend to forget to focus on the positives and feel overwhelmed by the things I am not thankful for.

Recently I read “The Gratitude Diaries” by Janice Kaplan, and as a result I have begun my own Gratitude Diary. Every day I write down three things (sometimes more) for which I am grateful. I don’t just focus on the big things, although often I do, but I try to take notice of the many small positive details in my day.

And you know what? I am noticing positives all the time, not just when I write them down. I feel better and more enthusiastic every day, because I do have a lot to be thankful for.

Can you imagine a world filled with people who reflected continuously on things in their lives they were thankful for? What positive energy there would be all around us!

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Rainy day blahs

imagesWeather is probably the topic most talked about (well, other than Trump these days). Everyone is affected by it, and everyone has something to say about it. If one is at a loss for topics of conversation, one inevitably turns to weather. (Can you guess why I’m writing about weather today…)

Today I woke up to drizzly rain, grey clouds covering blue sky, and a headache. I don’t know why, but when the sky is grey my mood is grey. It doesn’t matter that I feel blessed in so many facets of my life, atmospheric pressure presses my mood down. Because I work from home, the temptation is to spend the day curled up in my comfy chair with a cup of tea and read or watch a movie or surf the Internet. But when I give in to that, the hours pass by unproductively and guilt eats away at me because I’m wasting my day.

So what do I do instead? Well, this morning I started with a FaceTime chat with my sister, then with my daughter and granddaughter. I tidied the house, did a yoga practise, paid some bills, and wrote three pages on my current work-in-progress. Do I feel better? Well, it’s still raining outside and my grey mood isn’t completely lifted, but I do feel satisfied with what I’ve accomplished. And my headache is gone too. So I guess I do feel better.

…maybe now I’ll curl up with a cup of tea and my book. Just for a little while…

 

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Love/Hate Social Media

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Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I often feel swamped by messages and posts, have wasted too much time on Facebook, and feel overwhelmed by all the different platforms available to us today.

But as someone who lives far from family and friends, I appreciate having this means of staying in touch, sharing and seeing photos, reconnecting with people from earlier days, connecting with relatives I didn’t know. Those things I like about social media.

But there are aspects that trouble me too. Why do we feel compelled to post photos of ourselves? There seems to be something vaguely narcissistic about posting our faces and our lives on the Internet for the world to see. At least the faces and lives that we want the world to see.

When we post on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere, we present ourselves and our lives in a way of our choosing, which is not necessarily how things actually are. Not that we don’t do that when we are with people–we often keep things to ourselves–but our presence on social media is in the form of snapshots that are frozen in time and gives an impression that our whole life is as we post it. There isn’t the added element of interpretation available to the viewers of the post, such as body language, tone of voice, facial expressions.

Happy times, beautiful scenery, wonderful trips, loving relationships, great achievements–on Facebook life is good. But what we don’t show is how we worry, or how our stresses affect our psyche, or how we slept badly or grouched at someone we love, or that we struggle to get through a day because of an anxiety we just can’t shake.

I am often conflicted about posting. There are times when I want to post experiences because I wish I could have shared the experience with friends, like an amazing sunset or rainbow, and putting them on Facebook is the only way possible to share it with them. Other times I feel as if I’m bragging, rubbing my good fortune in people’s faces. That’s not what I’m doing, but it can feel like that nonetheless.

Yet that rainbow or sunset over the water is not really what my life is about; it’s only a very minute piece of that day, of that moment.

Sometimes I get so tired of feeling pressure to post, to read everyone else’s posts, to make sure I “like” so they don’t think I’m ignoring them. Do you feel like that at times?

We authors are encouraged to create a presence on social media to connect with our readers. That’s how I got started on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn. (I am stunned to list that many since I really only use Facebook and not the others, even though I have profiles with them.) Personally I would rather connect with my readers through the books I write than with what goes on in my life. At times I’d love to put social media profiles behind me.

But then I wouldn’t see photos of my new grand-niece, or know that a friend completed a half marathon, or see how another friend’s garden is growing…

How do you feel about social media?

 

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