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Renee Dubeau

Creative Nonfiction & Inspirational Shit

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dreams

How to Fight for Your Life.

When someone is critically injured, or is diagnosed with a serious illness, we often say that person is “fighting for their life”. As a healthcare worker, and hospice volunteer, I’ve watched many people fight these brutal battles. Whether a heart attack, cancer diagnosis, or a serious accident, patients have some common things they do while preparing to fight for their lives.

First, they assemble their teams. Or as we say in the South, we circle our wagons. We get our crew together, because, this is not a fight we can win by ourselves. No. We need help. So, we call our insurance company and find out what we can depend on them for. We research and find the best doctors, the most renowned hospitals, the most sought after  specialists. We make friends with the nurses, the pharmacist, the kind lady who delivers our meals. We gather our friends and family, and though it breaks their hearts a little bit to see us hurting and afraid, they suit up for battle. They will be our strength, our translators, and probably our sanity for as long as it takes to walk away from what are likely some of our worst days ever.

Once the team is all in place, and loved ones have gathered at ground zero, the planning begins. It’s time to make a treatment plan. We trust our doctors, the experts, to lead this process. We trust our intuition to tell us if they are on the right track. We get second opinions, third opinions whatever it takes until we feel comfortable.

We disobey our doctor and go to the internet. We Google our condition and read all the internet horror stories we can stomach. We look at the pictures. We can never un-see these awful pictures. Why did we go to Google after our doctor specifically said, “Hey, do yourself a favor and don’t consult Dr. Google.”?

Well… we can’t not go to Google. Google knows things, and what we need now is information, education, reassurance. And, we need to see those terrifying  pictures. We’re preparing. Planning. We can’t take anymore surprises. It’s time to go to war. We need all the help we can get.

When our team is in place, we’ve learned all we can, and a treatment plan is complete, the battle has only just begun. Now is the time to find out what you’re made of. Maybe, you begin chemotherapy, and quickly understand what people mean when they say that the treatment is worse than the disease. Maybe, you go to surgery to have your body cut apart and stapled back together. Maybe, you learn to walk again, talk again, how to swallow and speak. This is the dirty work. The nitty-gritty, gut wrenching chore of fighting through the pain, fear, set backs and sometimes unbelievably slow process of healing.

This is when your team is your lifeline. They make sure your needs are met. They don’t let you suffer alone. They’re right there in the trenches sharing your struggles, and marveling at your strength. They hold your hand, and your hair. They remind you how utterly capable you are. And when you sleep, they lean on each other. They cry. They pray. They take turns sitting at your bedside while the others run errands, and try to get some rest before their next shift of bedside watch.

Sometimes, things go exactly as planned. Sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes your victory is swift and sweet. Sometimes, it’s hard fought and bitter ’til the end. Sometimes, we have to surrender to what is, and accept defeat. Win or lose, this fight changes us. We begin to look at our life in a new way. A line of demarcation is indelibly drawn, neatly compartmentalizing our life into the things that happened before the event that changed everything, and everything that happened after.

Before the cancer.

After the car accident.

Before the stroke.

After open heart surgery.

Somewhere along this road, something really important happens: We finally start getting our shit together.

We reprioritize everything. We get focused on what’s most important. Facing our mortality, being vulnerable and needing support, feeling weak and afraid– these are huge motivators for rethinking all of our life choices.

In the days and weeks that follow, we become masters of self-care. We are forced to listen to our bodies and examine every single thing that goes into them. We may give up our bad habits, our favorite foods, anything that stands between us and our healing. Because, we know without a doubt that we would trade anything in the world for the healthy body we probably took for granted right up until this terrible thing happened. We wouldn’t trade any number of pizzas, bottles of wine, or packs of cigarettes <insert applicable vice here> for the opportunity to have our health and wholeness restored.

Usually, we begin to focus on relationships. We find a new appreciation for our team, for all the things they sacrifice to take care of us when we need them most, for the ways they encourage us, support us, keep us laughing, and sneak us in our favorite take out, even if the nurse says, “no”. We know who our real friends are now. They are the ones who didn’t run when shit got difficult. They stayed, they loved us through it, and we cannot wait to return every single favor just as soon as life allows us the chance.

While fighting for our lives, we make amends with those we’ve wronged. We ask for forgiveness. We forgive others. We mend our fences, because we have to be ready for the unthinkable, and we can’t leave any unfinished business behind. We take a good look at our lives and take an honest inventory of the person we have become. We engage in life review- revisiting our favorite memories, our most painful moments, our regrets, and maybe even that list of things we always said we wanted to do “someday”.

You know, someday.

That day in the arbitrary future when whatever perfect world scenario we’re waiting on is supposed to come to fruition. When work calms down, when the kids are bigger, when we have more money, or time, or focus, or whatever limitation we’ve imaged is keeping us from doing that thing we want to do.

When we realize that we might not get another someday, those experiences, goals, accomplishments- whatever we were putting off- might just be our motivation to keep fighting. We start doing whatever it takes to make sure we get to see the sunset in that city we always meant to visit, write that book, stick our feet in that ocean, or hold that grandbaby we just know will be on the way just as soon as the kids are ready. Whatever it is suddenly consumes us. It gives us hope, purpose, comfort.

This thing we return to on the days when we think we can’t fight anymore is there to remind us that we’re not done living yet. It becomes our touchstone.

Sadly, in our culture of chronic busyness and distraction, sometimes it takes something dramatic like a heart attack, or a car wreck to wake us up. Sometimes unthinkable things happen to make us fight for the privilege it is to exist on this earth. To remind us what’s important, or teach us how to take care of ourselves.

Life throws us all kinds of curves- they don’t have to be health scares. They can be anything that makes us turn off our autopilots, stop coasting, wake up and really get serious about creating the lives we truly desire.

My life has lots of these lines of demarcation- and moments that changed me.

I was a different person before my first child was born.

After I left my hometown.

Before my grandmother died.

After my divorce.

Before returning to the workforce after a decade at home.

After meeting my husband-to-be.

The process for major life changes is pretty much exactly like navigating a serious illness or injury. The same gathering of important people and reprioritizing everything else needs to happen. And, holding onto our touchstone reminds us why we need to do the very important, difficult, sometimes heart breaking work of tearing down our life and rebuilding it.

While fighting for the life we most desire, we need our team. They will remind us that we are utterly capable of dealing with whatever we’re going through. They will listen, they will hold our hands, they will remind us who we are, and why it’s so important to keep on keeping on the journey. They will be right there in the trenches while we gut out the hard days, and when we rise victorious, they will celebrate with us.

We need a plan. Not just dreams or goals. Actual plans that do not begin someday.

If you want to buy a house, change jobs, lose weight- whatever the practical things are you’ve been putting off- make a plan. Consult the experts, read, learn all you can about the things you want to do. Then, do them.

Do the practical things and the fun things you’ve been putting off.

Do the things you wish you could do, but fear has kept you from them.

Do the thing you would do if you knew you couldn’t fail.

Do it all. Make a plan, and do it soon, because  someday is not promised.

Our someday is today. Right now. This is when life happens. Now.

Become a master of self-care. Take all the time needed to take care of yourself, improve yourself, and make yourself the happiest, healthiest, best self you can be. Examine every single part of your life and decide what makes you better, what depletes you, what feels good, what makes you feel satisfied. Listen to your body, your intuition, your spirit. Then, adjust accordingly. Leave the job you hate. Move to that city you’ve always wanted to call home. Open the restaurant, do the open mic night, hang your art on the walls of your favorite coffee shop. That’s your touchstone. That thing- the idea of it, the feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction, fulfillment that you know will come with it- that’s your motivator for rethinking all your life choices.

You see, we don’t have to be sick or injured to fight for our lives. We can fight for them everyday, through the sea of distraction, and the mountains of excuses we make to stay stuck. We can assemble our team, learn everything we need to know, make a plan, and go to war until that impossible thing we thought we might never do becomes a line of demarcation in our life.

When we look back on the time we fought for that thing, we see our courage and strength. We see how life seems to give us everything we need, right at the time when we need it most. Most of all, we see what’s really important, what makes us feel happy and safe, and how utterly capable we are to handle any challenge.

Circle your wagons. Find your touchstone. Mend your fences. Make a plan. Get in there and fight for the life you deserve.

 

Photo: Wiki Commons

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I’ve grown restless.

An indescribable sensation consumes my days. It’s something like being trapped between duty and desire. The demands of logic and prudence shouting over the pretty whisper of my gypsy heart.

I’ve become conflicted. Completely certain, and also utterly unclear what it means to be alive, what it is to live. Dissonance rings between utility and divine purpose. It is a crisis of identity. A crisis of will. A crisis that threatens the very breath from my soul.

I’ve grown restless. Held in the mire of responsibility while longing for the frivolity of my dreams. Playing house in a tiny corner of the territory of my citizenship. My greatest fear, that my caged wings will perish before I am permitted to fly.

I’m breaking open. Pulled apart by the opposite forces that rule me. Of heart of head I can choose neither. Love or money may call to me, but my ears await the voice of freedom. I belong to no man, no country. I was born of the sky.

 

Photo: Wiki Commons

I Remember what I Wanted to be when I Grow up.

I believe it was in the third grade. My teacher passed out paper and crayons to the whole class and gave us one simple assignment. We were to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up. It was likely an exercise we did at the beginning of every new school year.

It’s such a huge decision at 8 years old. There were so many possibilities- some I didn’t even know existed yet. At the bottom of the paper was the phrase, “When I grow up, I want to be a ___________.” I didn’t have to carve it in stone, I just had to choose something to write on that line.

I agonized over the decision until finally, I drew a lady behind a desk in a suit. On the line below, I wrote “journalist”. Back then, I thought a journalist was the lady who read the news on the TV, or maybe wrote a column in the news paper like Dear Abby.

This decision is memorable today for two reasons. First, because almost all the girls in my class filled in their line with the word, “cheerleader,” and most of the boys said, “football player”.

There was one little boy who drew a dinosaur skeleton. He said he wanted to be a scientist. I liked that boy. His dinosaur took up two sheets of paper. I could tell he was different, like me.

In a room full of cheerleaders, I was the only girl who chose journalism. It was basically the story of my life. I wasn’t athletic or popular in high school. I was a band geek, a literature nerd, and a social activist. I loved to read, write and create. I was passionate about the environment and animal rights.

Life took many twists and turns for me. I chose the wrong career for a season, and the wrong marriage. In my years as a bored housewife, I started writing again. I started a silly blog to share stories about my family. I never guessed in those early days of Dysfunction Diaries that I would actually become an author.

I recently remembered that drawing from third grade. Somehow my soul knew even then what its purpose is.

I’ve intentionally avoided writing about politics in the past. For some reason, I didn’t feel qualified to speak on such topics. I didn’t want the drama that could come with expressing my unpopular ideas. But, I dipped my toe into that world just before the election. Then, Trump won, and it seemed all I could do it write about it.

This gift that even my 8 year old soul could see. This voice I have been given- I will use it for good. I will channel that feisty teenager who spent her evenings banging out letters to companies about their environmental practices on an old typewriter. Together, we will rise up in the name of every single person who needs a voice right now.

Finally, thirty years later, I remember what I wanted to be when I grow up. Truly, it was the only thing I ever could be.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Pixabay

 

 

How NaNoWriMo helped me get my $hit Together

NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Fifty thousand words in thirty days. A global event, in which writers compete against their toughest opponents. I’m not talking about other writers, either. I mean our real opponents- like procrastination, resistance, time management, writer’s block, self doubt, fear and distractions of the two legged, four legged, electronic, and imaginary varieties.

I first learned about this hard core writing event from a friend. Her husband participated in November 2015. He began a fiction piece, and abandoned it midway when he got bored with his characters. I was certain that it wasn’t humanly possible to write that many words in a month anyway. He was crazy for even trying, right? Who does that?

His story stayed with me. As November approached, I wondered if I was crazy enough to give it a try. I’ve been trying to write a book for about four years. Of course, I wasn’t going to write that book for my first NaNo. No, you’re supposed to write a new book. So, I started bouncing around different ideas. I have lots of ideas, and lots of books inside me. The challenge isn’t coming up with the idea. The challenge is staying focused enough on one of those ideas to write the damn book and not give up when it feels too hard.

I was discussing one of my book ideas with my boo on the phone one night, when I went to the NaNoWriMo website to take a peek. As we were talking, I decided to go for it. I signed up and made a profile. I didn’t announce my novel, because I didn’t know which one I would be writing. I just made a page for myself to hold space there. I used my little bio and headshots from Elephant Journal. It was a small step, but a step toward throwing myself into a huge goal with a fast deadline. And, why not? Why not write my first book during my first NaNoWriMo? I just needed to make a decision and start planning.

I had almost settled on an idea, when my boo changed the game for me. We were talking through my memoir- the cathartic, heartbreaking, soul liberating piece that I’ve been writing for four years. In four years, I’ve torn it apart and started over three times. In four years, I’ve put it on the shelf and walked away from it more times than I can count. In four years, I couldn’t do what he did for me in one evening.

I started telling him the story, piece by piece, scene by scene. Finally he stopped me and said, “Babe. You’ve got three books here. You’ve got to spread it out and give yourself space to tell the whole story. It’s too big for one book. It’s a trilogy.”

I was floored. It seemed so obvious after he said it. Why didn’t I think of that? It was brilliant, and exactly the shift I needed to get refocused.

With my idea all nailed down for the first book, and my big, scary, fast deadline in sight, it was time to start planning. Except, that’s not really my thing. Usually, I spend a bunch of time outlining, storyboarding, brainstorming, and so on. Then, I start writing in a totally different direction and throw all of it out. I decided not to spend too much time on all the organizing stuff, and instead just start thinking about it.

I did other prep work, like scheduling some time off at my day job, scheduling writing dates with friends,  and stocking the kitchen with wine, coffee, and snacks. I bought a shiny new notebook, rainbow index cars, and kickass pens. Priorities- check.

I joined my local NaNo message boards and started getting connected with other writers. They have writing events all over the city during the month. At my very first one, I met a woman who was writing a screen play. We started talking, and she told me about Scrivener. There was a free trial on the NaNoWriMo website. I downloaded it and started playing with it that night. I’ve never used the words “life changing” to describe a software product until now. Holy $hit. I’ve never been so organized. Seriously, hands down, the most helpful writing tool I’ve ever seen.

Writing real life stuff can be tricky, especially if your story isn’t particularly happy. Usually, I feel like I have to be in the right headspace to tackle certain topics. Or, I wait for inspiration to find me before I start working on something. NaNo showed me that resistance is my way of avoiding the yucky things I don’t want to think about. Having that big word goal and fast deadline forced me to push through, even on the days I didn’t want to, when it made me cry, when my heart hurt, when I felt like this wounds might never heal. I had no choice but to keep writing. And, as long as I kept writing, inspiration kept showing up.

NaNo breaks down your 50k words into daily goals of 1666 words. Naturally, I didn’t do this consistently day by day. I wrote huge chunks of stuff in the beginning and got ahead of my target. Then, the election happened, life happened, work happened, and my vampire hours started catching up with me. There was a brief moment when I didn’t think I would finish. I was behind, and avoiding like crazy all the chaos I didn’t want to look at. But, I had made a commitment to myself. And, I had so many people cheering me on. Failure was not an option. I pushed through all my blocks, and kept writing my little heart out.

I finished my word goal around one o’clock in the morning on November 30th. With twenty-three hours to spare, I did it. I wrote over 50,000 words. My first novel was almost complete. I cried my face off. And, I kept writing.

NaNo was exactly what I needed to push past the fear that was holding me back. It gave me a reason to move my dream of becoming a published author to the top of my to-do list, and not let anything keep me from it. It gave me the opportunity to connect with other writers, try new tools, and come up with new ways to stay focused and keep writing when it gets hard.

Most of all, NaNoWriMo helped me prove to myself that nothing is impossible. Those big scary goals are attainable if we just keep working toward them a little bit every day. Each time we accomplish the next thing that we once believed we couldn’t, we realize our potential in a new way. We let go of the limitations we have imagined for ourselves, and begin to see how truly limitless we are.

With each victory, we become more prepared for the next big challenge, and we believe more completely in our ability to achieve that next impossible goal. When we step into our power this way, nothing can keep us from making our dreams our reality. Nothing can keep us from our dharma, our destiny, or the true desire of our hearts.

Namaste xo

Nee

 

 

 

 

Going back to my Roots…

I’m spending the day clicking down memory lane. It’s time for me to gather my little stories and give them to the world in book form. I’m just amazed looking back on Dysfunction Diaries. I had no idea where it would take me when I started writing all those years ago.

Reading these stories, I can clearly see my growth. I can almost pinpoint the exact moment in time when I realized that I am a writer. This blog was more than just a silly hobby. It was the first step in my writing career. It gave me a voice at a time in my life when I didn’t know I had one.

Dysfunction Diaries helped me gain creative confidence. Through the feedback of so many wonderful people, I began to see the talent I have been given for storytelling.

Dysfunction Diaries helped me grow a thick skin. I’ve learned to accept criticism. I’ve learned to speak my truth and honor my story- even when people don’t like it.

Most of all, Dysfunction Diaries opened me up, helped me see myself, my family, my experiences in a new way. I realized that my story was more than just humorous. If told honestly- it’s actually kind of awesome and inspiring.

I’m excited to go back to my roots for a little while and compile these stories- and also write some new ones! I can’t wait to hold my first, published, paper book in my hands!

Namaste xo

Nee

Photo: Preus Museum

The End of an Era

The time has come for me to retire my first blog, Dysfunction Diaries.  It’s a bittersweet decision for me. I started that site about eight years ago. It was vulgar, irreverent, and usually hilarious. It’s where my writing career began- poking fun at my family and all the ridiculous things they do.

Dysfunction Diaries gave me a space in which to find my voice. It helped me begin to see myself as a writer. The feedback and encouragement I received while creating Dysfunction Diaries ultimately gave me the confidence to start writing my book, to join writing groups, take classes and workshops, and eventually to reach out to Elephant Journal with my work.

As I’ve grown as a person and an artist, my writing style has changed significantly. I’m much more interested in sharing my story now in a way that can help others. I’ve got a crazy story, and I know that the desire to tell it has led me to my purpose on this earth. I am truly grateful for every experience that has brought me to this moment, and it is always my sincere hope to uplift and inspire others with my words.

As I move into this next chapter of my life, I will not forget where I came from. I plan to honor Dysfunction Diaries by self publishing a collection of short stories from the site on Amazon later this year. It seems appropriate to allow Larry and the gang to live on even after the site has been put to rest.

If you’re a new reader, or you’ve been with me since Dysfunction Diaries began- thank you.  I appreciate you supporting me, as I make my dream of becoming a published author come true. I am the luckiest girl to always be surrounded with love and support. I couldn’t do this alone, and even if I could, I just wouldn’t want to.

Namaste

xo Nee

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