Live like you are going die?

The worst piece of advice I ever received was to live like I was dying.

The timing was bad. My father was, in fact, dying and doing it rather quickly. Cancer was tearing through his body, leaving his doctors and my mother baffled by its virulence.

I was grown, with small children of my own, keeping a stiff upper lip for all. The “live every moment as if it was your last” verbiage didn’t sink in until after his funeral, and then it engulfed me so completely that instead of grieving, I stopped being a reasonable person.

Somewhere, deep inside, I now understood I was going to die. It was a fact I’d heard before, of course, but until it happened to my dad, I guess I didn’t really believe it. Didn’t get it would happen to me.

Then, with my father no longer standing between me and eternity, every minute was precious. It wasn’t precious in a “thank-you-universe” kind of way. It was more like a for-god-sake-how-long-am-I-going-to-have-to-stand-in-this-grocery-line-while-you-pull-out-your-damn-coupons kind of way. It was a move-your-car-so-I-can-make-this-stupid-light kind of way. I had things to do and life to experience and now that I understood I didn’t have forever, I didn’t want to waste a minute of what I did have putting up with anyone’s shit.

I was miserable, and I was miserable to be around. It was no way to live.

This lasted for awhile and then I got tired of it. I mostly forgot about the fact that I was going to die, because we’re just not wired to hang on to that sort of thing. I went back to normal, wasting time and letting other people waste my time and usually not getting upset about it.

Much later, I would realize this had been by own way of grieving, and a few tears would finally come. I would find ways to celebrate my dad, and to enjoy my own life more.

I’m pulling out my passport for a trip I will take soon. I’m headed to Machu Picchu, a place I’ve always wanted to go. A closer look at my documents shows that in the past couple of years I’ve been to Portugal, Morocco, and Kenya. I imagine a customs official looking at me and asking “Did you win the lottery? Or are you dying?”

No, I haven’t won the lottery and even with budget travel I’m risking insufficient funds later in exchange for grabbing opportunities now. That’s an equation requiring balance, and I know I’m leaning to one side. I don’t intend to lean too far, but I’m okay with the imbalance.

You see, I am dying. Not any faster than anyone else, as far as I know, but I accept that my time is a limited resource.  I’ve decided to do the things I really want to do now.

During one of the last exchanges I had with my dad, he told me he wished he’d gotten more time, but he was grateful for all the moments he had. All the things he did. “It was a great life,” he declared and even as I heard him say it I thought I want to be able to say that, too.

Which is why this year I’m going to Peru, and participating in at least three other interesting things that matter to me and I’ve not made time for. Yet.

Because, of course, it isn’t about going places. It’s about having the time of your life. I realize having the time of my life is something I should have been doing all along, but it’s never too late to start. I’m thinking of what I might add in 2019.

You see, the best piece of advice I ever received was to live like I was dying.

(For more thoughts on how to use one’s time with wisdom see Spending time.)

 

 

Living vicariously through your characters

Authors note: My third novel z2 is currently on blog tour through the fine folks at Reading Addiction Virtual Book Tours. The post below is part of that tour and it appeared a a couple of weeks ago on a blog called My Devotional Thoughts. It was inspired by a post I wrote here back in 2012, three whole books ago. A lot has changed for me since then, but apparently other things haven’t changed much at all.

Should you write about what know already, or about things that you wish you could do? Conventional wisdom says that your books should be about things you know. However, writing a novel takes a tremendous amount of research, planning and day dreaming. I’ve decided to use that energy to enter worlds I barely know but have always wanted to visit.

sailboatWith my first novel, x0, I adhered to normal perhaps a little too well. The hero of x0 spends her days largely doing what I do, interpreting seismic data for an oil company. She loves her husband and three children, plants flowers and loves to travel.  Okay, she also spends a little time reading minds, but other than that she and I both have similar lives.

By the time I started y1, the second novel in this collection, I was getting restless. I have always wanted to learn to sail, and to visit the South Pacific. My husband has no interest in the first and little in the second. That’s when I discovered one of the reasons that I write.

Guess whose second book takes place on a sailboat in the Pacific? y1 let me not only learn to sail, it let me hear the sounds of the gulls and feel the plunk of the waves hitting my boat. I woke many mornings to the smell of salt air as I studied navigation charts and planned my routes. It was a wonderful year at sea, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Maya 2Of course, my second book took a lot more research than my first and it took longer to write. It got me over being shy as I sought out beta readers who really had sailed, traveled though and even lived in the areas I wrote about. Now they are part of my life, having enriched it with their details of places I may never see.

I once considered being an archeologist, visiting exotic ancient tombs and solving mysteries from times long past. I don’t do that, but as I wrote z2, I swatted mosquitoes in Belize with the best of them as I uncovered artifacts and learned to read numbers in Mayan while I was at it.

Did I mention that I once wanted to climb Mount Everest? I know now that it’s a dangerous and expensive undertaking, but my latest novel c3 boasts a young woman attempting to summit the world’s third highest peak. I climbed every step with her, and I never had to leave my front porch.

It is true that my research slows my writing down, but I consider myself blessed to have the chance to create stories that enable me and others to enjoy alternate existences that would come at too high a price in our real lives.  To me, that is what a book does best.