Right now, there are two things I’m supposed to be doing: writing a blog for the Brava Authors site and preparing for an interview with a friend who’s doing a non-fiction book. And suddenly it occurs to me how those two can fit together.
My friend’s book is about life-altering experiences – the ones, good or bad, that mean everything changes and you start over – and how people deal with them. One thing I realize is that an experience like a divorce or death or major illness means different things to different people. My own life-changer wouldn’t be a big thing to a lot of people. I was laid off a senior management job. Ten days after I’d just bought my first home, and shortly after a three-year relationship broke up. But even at that, it wasn’t the layoff that was the life-changer, it’s the way it was done. Cruelly. One simple sentence – “We’re so sorry to have to lay you off but the organization’s in financial trouble, and we want to tell you how much we value the contribution you’ve made over the last seven years” – would have made all the difference to me. Their coldness made me call into question how I’d spent the last seven years of my life, and the identity I’d formed. I’d worked really hard, knew I was doing a good job, and believed I was valued. Suddenly, because my employer didn’t acknowledge that at all, it made me feel valueless.
But here’s the good part. I questioned my life, my identity, my goals, and I turned my life around. Now, as a writer, I make far, far less money – but my quality of life is so much better. I am, in so many ways, a new person.
So, that was my life-changer, and in thinking about the topic of my friend’s book, I realized it’s also the theme of my novella “Tattoos and Mistletoe” in Brava’s holiday anthology, The Naughty List.
The heroine, Charlie Coltraine, is still in her twenties but she’s experienced two of those life-changers. The first came when, in grade twelve, her alcoholic parents burned their house down and killed themselves in the process, and her aunt made it clear that, while she’d do her duty and take Charlie in, she really didn’t want the trashy daughter of her own trashy sister. The town of Whistler held no higher opinion of Charlie and so she left, all her worldly possessions in a backpack. A high school dropout, alone in the world, she set off to make her own way. And she did, eventually using her artistic talent to becoming a successful tattoo artist in Toronto. Her life was on track – because she’d lost everything and had the strength to build a good life for herself.
Then came the second life-changer. Her aunt died and left Charlie her B&B in Whistler – but only if Charlie went “home” and lived in the B&B while renovations were completed. The last thing Charlie wanted was to see Whistler again, but the thing she most wanted was the money to open her own tattoo parlor. And so she went back, not realizing that in the process she’d have to come terms with her past – because LJ Jacoby, the hot tool-belt guy in charge of the renos, just happened to be the science geek from her past, the boy who’d had a wild crush on the high school bad girl and wasn’t about to let her get away a second time.
The thing Charlie learns – as I learned, and many others have learned about life-changing events – that no matter how traumatic they are, they’re an opportunity. They force us to re-examine our life – and we can dig deep and find the strength to move on and, in many cases, build an even better life.
If I hadn’t been laid off, would I ever have discovered my bliss and become a writer? Quite possibly not; I’d still be slaving long hours at a job that was okay but not great.
Have you had a life-changing experience that seemed terrible at the time, but that you turned inside out to find a silver lining?