Mindfulness in a pandemic by Gary Petingola

When I received the box of “my” newly published book, I used all of my senses to simply be with it. I felt the cover, touched each page, read parts of it out loud and looked at the cover’s artwork. The dragonfly artwork originally hand painted by my daughter “Brown Eyes,” seemed to almost jump off the cover as a symbol of new beginnings. Incredible, I was now officially an author! Thinking back to that Saturday morning stroll through the outdoor market, coming across Latitude 46 Publishing’s table laid out with books is how this journey all started. I had quickly gathered enough courage to approach the table and pitch my idea to write a book compiled of weekly stories and insights on the topic of mindfulness. I shared how a book like this could be a rich addition to the literature, something not yet done as far as I knew in the realm of mindfulness literature. The publishers seemed interested, took my card and said they would be in touch. A few weeks later, I received an email inviting me to come by their office to discuss the book proposal further. I was ecstatic! I arrived at their offices armed with an eight-inch-thick binder filled with almost nine years of weekly meditation stories. Not sure how we could possibly turn this scribbling into a book, but they sent me off with suggestions to work on the first draft. I often pondered what I had gotten myself into as I watched the seasons go by. Yet, I found it comforting to review the stories and reflect on the real people who influenced my writing. In my naivety though I had the illusion I would simply package my writings and I would have a book. This was far from reality. The ordering of chapters and stories changed. Chapter titles were redrafted. I learned to remove unnecessary uses of the word “that” and I slowly introduced mindfulness practices at the end of each story. I knew it had reached its completion when I read it from cover to cover for the fifth time and it made me smile. In the end, I could hand over the final draft and feel pride at what we accomplished. The book launch took place in late February 2020, and after the celebration my wife and I hopped on a plane for Portugal with plans to return to Canada in a month and continue promoting the book in person. However, instead of the original plans, the global pandemic shut the world down and I was forced to return early and within weeks life as we knew it changed in an instant. This felt like a grey and heavy time. Like many others around the world, we were numb, frightened and anxious. During this time, we practiced yoga and meditation daily. The Body Scan mindfulness practice outlined in my book became our new late-afternoon friend. I read excerpts from my book and they made me reflect and find comfort. It was uncanny that the book I had written and hoped would benefit others, was now helpful to me. These last six months have been exceptionally challenging, trying to find balance between wishing things were different, reminiscing about Pre- COVID-19 days, worrying about the future, and simply carrying on. As I shared in The Response, I find grounding in small everyday encounters. This summer we had a chipmunk in our front yard who dug a hole under our stone walkway. Every so often he nudges his head up, checks out his surroundings and after a quick perusal returns to his place of safety. I smile as I secretly witness this behaviour. It occurs to me that it is similar to how many of us are coping during this pandemic time. Hiding away for safety with occasional forays into the community. As a first born, type A male, I find it hard to not want to fix. It is difficult to just be with. Yet, this is precisely what mindfulness has taught me. To be with the present moment, purposefully, with full presence in a particular way without judgment. It means being with both the pleasant and unpleasant circumstances of life with curiosity and spaciousness. To ride the wave, vulnerable to ebbs and flows without capsizing. It allows for one to live life with stability and calm, particularly in times of high stress. Mindfulness helps us to not dwell in the past or worry about the future. I have felt at times the pandemic has cheated me of exciting new author opportunities, yet part of me is happy to know this book is even more relevant during these historical times. Mindfulness practice is a useful tool amid a pandemic that can cause us to feel strong emotions like fear, sadness, and anger, perpetuated by ruminative thinking; to cope with self-isolation, physical distancing, and change; to reduce daily anxiety, improve sleep and to reduce inflammation. I have come to realize The Response – Practising Mindfulness in Your Daily Life has arrived just at the perfect time. Gary Petingola MSW, RSW    

Into my father’s hands

After years of working on a manuscript, I imagine that most authors strive to get noticed by a publisher and land that first book deal, but publication was not my original intention. Since I was a teenager, I knew my father had an extraordinary story and I’d wanted to write it, but I worried that asking him about his life during the war would dredge up all too painful memories. Twenty-five years later, driven by fears of escaping time, diminishing memories, and increasing health concerns, we decided it was time to record his memories before they disappeared altogether. At the time, I thought little about what the finished project would look like, focusing only on remembering and recording. As our project evolved over months and years, I considered many options for sharing his story with our family, and even some close friends who had expressed interest. We discussed printing out copies, and maybe even binding it at a local print shop. During that period, I shared parts of the manuscript with teachers and classmates in my creative writing classes at University of Toronto. They encouraged me to complete and publish his story in book form. When the manuscript was complete, and with my father’s blessing, I sent it out to a few small presses and crossed my fingers, but that winter my father’s health declined and I felt that there was no time to lose. That’s when I decided to self-publish. The decision to become an indie author was the right one for so many reasons. There is no way to describe how I felt when I placed a copy of my father’s story into his hands or the look on his face when he saw his image on the cover. Fortunately, my father’s health improved enough that he could participate in book launches and other events with me after publication. As an author, self-publishing also taught me so much about the other side of writing: interior design and layout, various types of editing, cover design, shipping, distribution, sales, promotion, and a host of other issues I hadn’t thought about while I’d spent hours writing at my laptop. Months after self-publishing, I learned that a new small press had sprung up in my hometown with a focus on northern writers. As is my nature, I threw my hat, or in this case my manuscript, into the mix. What was there to lose? It turned out that it was a chance worth taking. When the publishers at Latitude 46 presented me with a contract, I received much more than that. All those roles I’d had to learn were now divvied amongst a group of passionate individuals whose purpose was to nurture my father’s story and support my efforts as an author. My book received a fresh interior layout, careful and respectful editing, and a lovely new cover, while I received a supportive team of individuals who believed in the book as much as I did. I’ll never regret self-publishing, but the transition to traditional publishing has been beyond my expectations. This time, I recognize the need for stories like my father’s to be read and shared beyond our circle of family and friends. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is an author out there that doesn’t dream of getting that first book deal, but placing the book in my father’s hands was more important to me than waiting for years for a publisher that might never arrive. To my delight and surprise, as if by magic, a publisher did arrive, and in my own backyard. They had faith in me and in my project. Now, I’m looking forward to the moment when, once again, I can place a copy of my father’s story into his hands. For that I am forever grateful. –Liisa Kovala Surviving Stutthof: My father’s memories behind the Death Gate will be available Sept. 28 2017. Pre order your copy on May 1 2017.    
photo credits: Gerry Kingsley

How writing brought me out of darkness

Some stories are easy to write. They keep us dreaming throughout the day. They fill us with endless hours of inspiration. They complete us. My first novel was one of those stories. Though fictional, I drew inspiration for that story from the people around me, their interactions with others, and their ability to persevere in even the most challenging circumstances. I enjoyed every moment that I spent working on the first draft, and had no intention of ever sharing it with anyone else. All I wanted was to write an entire book from beginning to end. Completing it was all the satisfaction I needed before, I tucked the manuscript away without giving it a second thought. Some stories are difficult to write. They keep us awake all night. They remind us of the darkness in our lives. Often, they tear us apart. I have always found true stories difficult to write, preferring fictional worlds over reality. But one night, after I was beaten, robbed, and left lying at the side of the road, I couldn’t think of writing about anything else. I was no longer inspired by anything or anyone, and the artistic lifestyle that once brought me joy had disappeared. My mind was clouded by the memory of that night, of my attacker’s voice and the violation I felt at having no control over what happened to me. The terrifying event played over and over in my mind, and no matter how much I wanted to change the story, it always ended the same way, with me scared, alone and bleeding on the pavement. Despite this cloudiness, I wanted to write about the attack. I thought that telling the story would help me to make sense of everything that happened and finally move on with my life. But I could only get four or five words down on paper before I had to stop. The night that changed my life forever was impossible to forget, and yet I could not force one bit of creative energy on to something that caused me such misery. And so I tried my best to forget about it. The more I tried to push myself to ignore the trauma, the harder it became to focus on anything else. Then, while attempting to distract myself from the loneliness of an empty house one evening, I came across the manuscript I had written before the attack. The words on those forgotten pages meant more to me than I could have ever imagined. I decided to devote some time to editing the story, and as I did, I began to recall how safe and confident I had been when I first wrote it. I found a distraction from my empty house and from the worst memory of my life. As I worked, I realized that after spending so much time trying to force focus on a negative story, I had completely closed myself off to the rest of the creative world that I cherished so much. Although it was unintentional, through the editing process I managed to find my way back to writing the “easy” stories. By doing so, I distanced myself emotionally from the one story that caused me so much grief. I also learned to accept that all stories, in their own time, become easier to share. Now, I keep myself open to all aspects of writing, because even the truest and darkest tales can end in light. Diana Douglas Diana’s debut novel Somewhere Picking Dandelions was published in November 2016 by Latitude 46 Publishing.