Take Care

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I sit in the creaking nylon-web lawn chair and wrap both hands around my coffee mug. Arlo comes up beside and lays down on his blanket. I watch the ripples on the water flicker with the light of the rising sun. and the reflection of an eagle circling overhead, waiting for expanding rings on the surface.

I’m content. A feeling which has eluded me for too long. After months of Rayna telling me to take better care of myself, the proverbial straw broke like the earth splitting in two. That’s when everything changed.

It started at work. I got back from lunch a few minutes late. My boss pointed one of his passive-aggressive comments in my direction. I threw my notebook at him, then my chair. On my escorted walk to the front door, I blew a little kiss to the receptionist. Colour drained from her face. She knew that I knew, and now I didn’t have any reason to hide it.

With each step toward my car, I became lighter. The warmth from the sun soaked into my skin. I smiled for no reason. I exited the parking lot with the windows down and the stereo cranked. The immediate instinct was to turn right at the lights, like I had every weekday for the last seven years. Instead, I pushed down on the turn signal lever, and with the green, went in the opposite direction.

I drove backroads for hours, taking corners too fast for fun, not because I had somewhere to be. I’d wave to horses and moo at cows as I passed. At a three-way stop, I let the car idle and stared at the tinge of warm colour along the flat horizon. My phone buzzed in the cup holder.

The boys are getting together for a pint, you in?

I stared at the screen like the words were foreign. I swiped to open the messenger app.

I am.

Gravel spit and the back end kicked out as I turned in the intersection and pointed toward the city.

A spot opened in front of the pub as I drove up. My dust covered car stood out in the sea of shiny paint. Not that I cared. Inside, I headed to the back corner and the usual table. Raff raised his glass to me. Carter nodded. Jonathon didn’t notice me. He was telling a story about last night’s conquest.

At the end of the table, I took the glass out of Raff’s hand and poured the amber liquid over his head. As Jonathan’s story trailed off and his eyes went wide, I cracked his jaw. I shook my hand out and patted Carter on the back. “Find better friends.” The reactions of the people around me failed to register as I walked out the door.

By the time I pulled up at home, the sun was minutes away from setting. Rayna sat on the front steps with her arms crossed, and her lips pinched tight enough they disappeared.

“Where the hell have you been?”

“Out with the guys.”

“Anything you want to tell me?”

I shrugged. “By the sounds of it, you already know.”

“How could you get fired? And why did you punch Jon?”

“Well, technically I quit. And Jonathon is a dick, I should have done it years ago.” I walked past her into the house. Arlo met me in the porch, doing his little dance and wagging his tail. Rayna followed along, nattering at me. Talked the whole way through me packing my bag and replacing my dress clothes with jeans and a t-shirt. On my way to the garage, I dropped my key fob and cell phone on the kitchen table. I pressed the button to open the big door and walked down to the cool concrete.

Rayna stood in the doorway. Arlo sat beside her with his ears perked. “I don’t understand what’s going on.”

I pulled the cover off dad’s old truck. I focused on how the dim light played off of the chrome and followed the swaying body lines. “I’m taking care of myself.”

“You’re ruining your life is what you’re doing.”

“Doesn’t feel that way to me.” I opened the passenger side of the truck, tossed my bag on the footwell, and patted my thigh. “Come on, Arlo.”

Arlo cocked his head, then bounded down the steps and up into the truck. Behind the wheel I flipped down the visor and a set of keys fell into my hand. I spread the ring out. One key for the ignition, one for the gas cap, and one for the cabin up north.

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Photo by Haeden Kolb on Unsplash

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Reaching the Fall

The sky was overcast and the world was dull. The pathways were mottled with people wearing fall jackets for the first time that season. When I saw her come around the corner her hands were deep in the pockets of her fitted leather jacket. Dark sunglasses and darker hair obscured her face. The click of her heels on the pavement rang above the Sunday morning din.

She sat down beside me, but tight to the opposite arm of the bench. She looked straight out and propped her sunglasses on her head. “Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” I said.

I couldn’t look at her either. The sadness, the red around her eyes, it was too much.

“So what are we doing then?” she said.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“Sorry. I do. It’s just… this isn’t easy for me.”

She turned to me and her eyes narrowed. She crossed her arms and stared.

“What I mean is,” I said, “it’s not easy for either of us. It couldn’t be less easy. I just wish I could take everything back.”

“Everything?”

“Not everything. Just the bad parts I guess.”

“So that’s what you think life is? Keep the good and sweep the bad under the carpet?”

“No, I…” I learned forward and put my elbows on my knees. “This isn’t the way I wanted things to go. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah well, me neither.” She sighed and looked away, then she pulled her sunglasses down and stood to walk back the way she had come.

 

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This and That but Mostly the Other is my new short story collection. It is a collection of moments, from the briefest glimpse to those more complex. It’s about introductions and endings. It is a reminder of what was, and a glimpse of things to come.

Click the home page to see all the different ways you can find it.

 

Loss

I’m standing with my hands out against the shower wall. Hot water is flowing over my head and down my face. It’s mixing with the tears and washing them away.

Our existence is linear and there is only one destination. People get old or they get sick, and then they die. It will happen to all of us one day, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept.

Near the end, the questions of should I or shouldn’t I become more urgent. I think about how it might have been if I was more present. I can’t escape the missed opportunities where I left things unsaid or undone, and how unfair it is that sometimes there are no second chances. The guilt of it all sweeps through my body and it makes me weak.

I wonder why it takes a loss for us to remember what is important. Why it’s so hard to find a happy medium between living for today and not forgetting our responsibilities. Why we continue to do things every day that bring us no joy as the end inches ever closer.

I’m standing with my hands out against the shower wall. I’m waiting for the answers to come, for life to make some sort of sense. Or maybe, I’m just waiting for the tears to stop.

 

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For Grandpa Joe

 

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Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Inspire Your Audience

I wanted to share something important for my 100th post, and this is immediately what came to mind. It was written as my tenth speech for Toastmasters, the project was to “Inspire Your Audience”, and I chose to do so by highlighting three quotes. It was one of the hardest projects I’ve done to date, not necessarily because of the subject matter, but because I wanted to do it justice. I hope it brings you some inspiration, or motivation as the case may be.

 

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You Are Dying

This is the opening line of a spoken word piece by Shane Koyczan called “Pinned to the Dish.” In this he speaks about regrets and missed opportunities. He asks,

What Are You Waiting For

It’s easy for us to resist change even though our current path leads to all kinds of unproductive situations. We make excuses because we’re afraid. We say things like, I’m not good enough. I don’t have time. Or it’s too late, I’m too old. Well, the first two are easy, you are, and you will if you make it a priority. The last one I struggle with, because I often hear it from people who are far too young to have anything to complain about. And so, in response I offer you quote #1.

It's Never Too Late

I like this one a lot, but the problem is that George Eliot didn’t say it. It actually comes from a passage in “The Ghost in the Picture Room” written in 1859 by Adelaide Anne Procter,

 

No star is ever lost we once have seen,

We always may be what we might have been.

 

What I’m learning lately is that for many the most productive and rewarding years of their life aren’t until much further down the line. In fact, there are people all around us who have changed direction late in life and had a huge impact. George Eliot didn’t write quote #1 but was in fact a renowned author. She didn’t publish her first novel until the age of 40. I said she, because George Eliot was the pen name for Mary Anne Evans.

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I shouldn’t have to explain why a woman might want to adopt a male pen name in the late 1800’s, or today for that matter, but what I like to take away from this is that she wanted to write, and she found a way.

 

 

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Annie Proulx is the author of five novels, including The Shipping News and Postcards. You may be more familiar with a short story she wrote that was later turned into an Academy Award winning movie called Brokeback Mountain. This past November, at the age of 82, she won a National Book Award for Lifetime Achievement. This was amusing to her as she didn’t start writing fiction until she was 58.

 

 

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This is Charles Bradley, also known as “The Screaming Eagle of Soul”. He was 62 years old when he released his first studio album, “No Time For Dreaming”. It was named one of Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 50 albums of 2011. The follow up, “Victim of Love” came out in 2013. “Changes” was released in 2016. That same year, in October, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He fought hard and it was thought to have gone in to remission, but on September 6, 2017 he announced that he was cancelling all upcoming tour dates to focus on treatment as it had moved to his liver. 17 days later he passed away at the age of 68.

Welcome to quote #2,

The Problem Is

According to the internet this comes from the teachings of Buddha, but it’s actually based on a much longer passage in the third book of the Don Juan series, Journey to Ixtlan.

There is one simple thing wrong with you – you think you have plenty of time … If you don’t think your life is going to last forever, what are you waiting for? Why the hesitation to change?

 

 

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This is my mother in-law, Jane Arams. In September of 2014, just before her 62nd birthday, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastic Colon Cancer. She passed away in July of 2016. I had never experienced a loss like this before, but watching a life that was once so vibrant, diminish as it did, made me realize how much I take for granted every day.

Shortly before she passed, I found out that she had always wanted to see the Penguins at the Calgary Zoo, but didn’t get the chance. At that point she had been admitted to a palliative care facility and there was no turning back. It was something so small, but it still sticks with me today. Never mind that she won’t see her grandchildren grow, or get to experience retirement, even though she hadn’t needed to work for a number of years. It opened my eyes to all that I don’t make time for, or that I set aside, waiting for “one day”.

None of us lives forever, but some small hope comes in the form of quote #3, and the closing line of “Pinned to the Dish”,

Don't Panic

I have struggled over the past few years with putting perceived obligations to work and to my family ahead of my own needs. I resisted steps to change because I didn’t want to let certain people down, but the fact is, by playing small and setting aside my hopes and dreams, I was in fact letting everyone down, most importantly myself. The way I look at it, life is like an emergency situation on an airplane in that you need to put your own mask on first. By taking care of yourself, by being happy and living your best life, you are giving everyone around you permission to do the same. With this realization in mind I decided to take some very small steps in a new direction.

This pile of paper (you’ll have to use your imagination here) represents 47,000 words of my first novel. I have a plan in place to self publish this, and a collection of short stories before the end of the year. I’m generally pretty hard on myself, but it’s a fact I am not extraordinary. If I can do this then anyone can. And so I ask all of you,

What Are You Waiting ForWhat can you do in the next thirty days to begin the journey to fulfilling your dreams? There’s still time. Don’t wait any longer.

Thank you.

 

99 Words #20 – Smile

I’m sitting here thinking about cancer, and I’ve decided that life isn’t fair.

Celebrities get shout outs and hashtags, while our friends and family are taken from us and nobody knows. Everyone is talented. Everyone is important. Right?

I’m lost in thought, when the boy pops up in front of me. He’s grinning ear to ear, tongue sticking through the space where a tooth used to be.

“Hi dad.”

Just as quickly, he disappears. I realize that maybe I’ve got it all wrong. It’s not about recognition, it’s what we do with the time we are given that counts.

 

 

99 Words #18 – Keep Walking (aka Y is for Yesteryear)

We hang on to the past so tightly.  Fond memories and stories.  Pictures and special mementos.  We also hold on to things that offer us no benefit.  Perceptions and expectations.  Fears and regrets.  The person you are today was built upon all of your experiences, good and bad, but you don’t need to let those things define you.

I was asked a question today.  If I could tell my 16 year old self anything, what would it be?  My response was, no matter how bad things look right now, everything is going to be all right.  Just keep walking.

 

 

99 Words #17 – The Colour of My Mind (aka W is for When)

For better or worse, I’ve always been a product of my environment.  I absorb the attitude and energy of what is around me, and that is what I present to the world.  It’s not intentional.  In fact, until recently I didn’t give it much thought.  The problem is that I’m beginning to believe this is no way to live!  When do I get to be me?

Today, things change.  From now on, when I speak, I will use my own words.  When I act, it will be for my own reasons.  When I leave, I will not look back.

99 Words #16 – The Path #2 (aka V is for Verity)

Our path isn’t always clear.  It may have once seemed that way, but what used to be a wide and well defined trail can turn thin and overgrown.  One day you’re busy forging ahead, just like usual, and then you look up and you’re lost.  Don’t panic, it happens.

Try something for me.  From now on, speak only the truth.  Do not be concerned if it doesn’t comply with what your society, church, or mother says.  Be true to yourself.  Because when you leave falsehoods behind your situation will begin to change.  Your true path will become clear again.

 

99 Words #8 – What Are You Waiting For? (aka J is for Jump)

I’m so tired of watching the people I care about make themselves sick by waiting for “one day”.  Fear and distraction steal from us time that we’ll never get back, and we forget that sometimes there is no tomorrow.

So what are we waiting for?

I struggle with that question every day.  I know where I want to be, but the path forward is intimidating and uncertain, so I fall back to the false comfort of the status quo.

No more.  Why be afraid of the future you seek if you’re not happy with today?  It’s time to jump.

 

99 Words #7 – Untitled (I is for Inconsistencies)

I’m curious how many around me live their lives at odds with their core beliefs.  It seems that people, who would otherwise oppose violence and oppression, actively support a society that values cruelty and degradation.

Do we live this way because we’ve been taught it is the only path?  Is it because we don’t know how to change?  Or is it because we are immersed in fear, confusion, and distraction?

If only we could give ourselves permission to plant the seed that lies within our consciousness, the contradictions by which we all live could finally be put behind us.