Sneak Preview! An Excerpt from See What Flowers

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See What Flowers will be available on Amazon on May 20

This time next week, See What Flowers, my début novel about love and mental illness, will be available on Amazon.

Here’s a sneak preview of See What Flowers to give you a feel for what the book’s about.

See What Flowers

By Shannon Mullen

Prologue

“Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not demanding more from yourself – expanding and learning as you go – you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.”

― Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner

Emma: May 10, 2014, 9:30pm EDT

The party is over. I’m floating weightlessly through the sky like Mary Poppins, grasping my flamingo pink birthday balloons so tightly that my nails puncture the skin of my sweaty palm.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Startled by the sound of myself giggling, I release the balloons. They float to the ceiling as my feet hit the floor but the giggling doesn’t stop. Instead, it becomes louder, more honest: the yelp of a dog off-leash, the squeal of a toddler chasing butterflies, the height of sexual pleasure, the subconscious release of something raw and visceral, something undeniably, yet unexplainably true.

It’s like I’ve pierced a small hole in the balloon, sucked in the helium and exhaled delirium. I’m under the effect of something, certainly too much Malbec, but perhaps also too much happiness.

After more than a decade of cramming for exams, late nights at the library, taking risks, and making tough decisions, I’ve become lighter, like in the way sticking to a running program burns excess fat. The lightness teaches me that struggle lifts us up rather than weighs us down.

I take a blue recycling bag from underneath the sink and start cleaning up empty tall cans–Steam Whistle, Mill St., Muskoka, Great Lakes, Kichesippi and other Ontario Craft beers that I’ve never seen before. Every time I go to the Beer Store, there’s a new microbrew on the market. With so much competition, what makes one product last and another disappear? By the time I’ve tossed a dozen or so empties into the recycling bag, the giggling has stopped and I’m overcome with exhaustion. I check the time on my phone. 3:30 am. There’s a missed call from Adam. Where is he?

Adam will be upset that I already washed all of the dishes—the plates and forks we used to serve my DQ cake, the wine glasses, and the Starbucks mug that that Katie used for her cab sav because we ran out of glasses. Adam wouldn’t make me clean up a mess on my birthday. He’d remind me that a real partner shares the responsibility, and that since I’m the BDG, I deserve to let him pull the weight.

I tug on the ribbon dangling from one of the balloons floating against the ceiling. I want to set it free, let it fly into the wild like a caged parrot being released in the jungle, so I put the recycling bag on the floor and collect the ribbons from all three balloons. How high will they soar before bursting to the ground? Fingers crossed these balloons will drift higher and higher and higher into a limitless universe.

I shiver slightly as a draft of cold air floods the apartment the second the front door opens, like winter has suddenly arrived even though summer’s just around the corner.

I spin around to see who it is. I already know.

Adam.

He’s holding a couple of pink tulips in his hand, freshly picked from the neighbours’ garden. His eyes are glowing with the droopy haze of booze and he looks like a maniac, a wild dog. We are both high on the energy of the party and the awareness that we are on the brink of something wonderful. As I float towards him, a nagging question tugs me back; I want to swat it away like an annoying mosquito. But it keeps buzzing inside me. I shiver again.

Is there such a thing as being too happy?

He hands me the tulips, luscious lips in full bloom. As I accept the flowers, I release my grip on the balloons, and they bounce gently against the ceiling the way they did before—hovering, annoyed, frustrated, contained by the ceiling and disappointed by the limits of life.

He hugs me tightly and an electric current shoots through me as though he’s resuscitating a heart that’s already beating. We hold each other, our bodies linking in the courtship ritual of dragonflies, our brilliant green darners hover as one above our apartment.

Our home.

“This is the happiest I’ve ever been,” I whisper.

It is.

Book Launch: See What Flowers

Thursday, June 15

7:30-9:00pm

The Steady Café and Bar

1051 BLOOR ST W TORONTO, ON, M6H 1M4

Admission: Free

Copies of See What Flowers will be available to purchase for $20.

Cash only.

The evening will include Q & A with writer Louise Johnson and musical performance by Keira Loukes.

This is a public event, so feel free to bring along friends and family members!

For more info, check out the Facebook event.

 

Book Cover for my Début Novel!

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I’m excited to announce that my début novel,  See What Flowers, will be available on Amazon on May 20.

The fantastic cover was designed by Stella_e, a platinum-level Croatian designer who won the contest I ran through 99designs, the world’s largest online graphic design marketplace.

I would HIGHLY recommend using this site for any graphic designs you need ex. posters, merchandise, advertising, packaging, books & magazines, etc.

For more info about the contest click here.

See What Flowers, Toronto Book Launch:

Thursday, June 15, 7:30pm

The Steady Café & Bar

1051 BLOOR ST WTORONTO, ON, M6H 1M4

see what flowers - full page e-book cover

 

I Told a Story at True Stories Told Live Toronto!

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Storytellers Charlotte Blake Alston, Erin Rodgers, me, Karima Armin, and Marsha Shandur

I’ve trekked in the Andes & Alaska and moved to the Arctic by myself. I’ve taken risks for love, even though I wasn’t sure if it would work out.

Telling a story at True Stories Told Live Toronto was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done.

Why?

I’d been to TSTL several times and the storytellers are always engaging and entertaining.

At school, students fall asleep in my classes all of the time…even during gym…

The last time I tried to tell a story to my friend at the bar, she excused herself after five minutes to go to the “bathroom”…

Plus, my story was scheduled during the Toronto Storytelling Festival so I was in the line-up with Charlotte Blake Alston and Karima Armin, ACTUAL storytellers who’d traveled from out of town for the event.

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My storytelling début at TSTL Toronto!

True Stories Told Live Toronto is a fantastic monthly storytelling event held at The Garrison. It’s organized, curated and hosted by Marsha from YesYesMarsha.com.

Although the bar is packed for shows–I’d estimate 200+ people were in the audience for my story, it feels personal, like your at a family gathering.

It’s a fresh space for connection and intimacy in a city that can sometimes feel cold, lonely, and isolating.

Somehow, I pushed through my fear and sense of impostor syndrome and told my story. It was really fun, and while of course there are things I would change for next time, my first live story definitely went better than expected. I feel proud of myself for standing up and doing something that scared me.

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Stephan wearing his Cavs jersey on the frozen Arctic Ocean

Click here if you want to watch my story, Arctic Basketball Team. Join the Facebook group for info about future TSTL events!

On Writing: Faith & Sweat

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Bestselling author Glennon Doyle Melton gets up at 4:30am to write.

This morning I was going to get up early and go to the gym. I didn’t.

After the gym I was going to go to my fave café and get my marking out of the way so that I could spend the afternoon writing. I didn’t.

What did I do this morning?

I slept in until after 10am (which rarely happens) & I lay in bed scrolling through Instagram on my phone.

Truth is that this is what my body & mind needed this morning. Rest and recovery. So I’m not going to beat myself up over skipping the gym and letting my marking sit in my backpack for a little longer.

But while scrolling through Instragram I came across the above post by Glennon Doyle Melton (@glennondoylemelton), founder of Momastery and author of #1 New York Times Bestseller LOVE WARRIOR, a memoir of her journey of self-discover following the implosion of her marriage. It’s an honest & inspirational account of confronting pain and claiming love. I highly recommend it. (So does Oprah!)

Faith & Sweat

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Glennon’s post struck me this morning because it reveals how important it is to MAKE TIME to pursue our passions. Even bestselling authors like Glennon struggle to prioritize their writing.  As a mother of three children, Glennon struggled to find time to write amidst her family responsibilities. So she gets up before her family is awake to make it happen. Even if this means dragging herself out of bed when she wants the extra sleep. Her memoir, Love Warrior, is the product of her getting up at 4:30am so that she could MAKE TIME for writing.

As an aspiring writer myself, I’ve been finding myself resenting the various responsibilities that encroach on my time to write.

I’m a full-time teacher during the week, so in order to meet professional standards, as well as my own personal standards for myself (which are arguably too high sometimes), I need to spend time in the evening and weekends to get marking done, and prepare my lessons. It is not fair of me to resent my job or even my students because these tasks take time away from writing.

Teaching also allows me to pay the bills and contribute to society in a meaningful way. As of now, writing is not paying the bills. So as much as writing fuels my heart, it is not fuelling my very hearty appetite. It is not paying my rent. It is not paying utilities. It is not paying for the splurge on the blue cowboy boots I bought in Arizona.

Still, writing fuels my soul and makes me feel happy in a way that nothing else can. Not a person. Not an adventure. Not an experience. It is really hard to explain what writing does for me. I guess it is when I feel most like myself.

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I love this interview with Joan Didion on CBC’s Writer’s & Company.

Before I wrote my first novel, See What Flowers, (which is yet to be published and maybe never will), I had the same attitude as “S”, the aspiring writer Glennon refers to in her Instagram post. I thought “One day when I have enough money, I will write. One day, when I have enough time, I will write. One day, when I am good enough to do it, I will write. One day, when I have a good enough idea, I will write.” But somehow the desire to write overcame the excuses not to and I made the time.

Having saved up a lot of money from living in the Arctic and having the privilege to live with family and not pay rent, I took 10 months off of teaching to write.

The process of writing a novel that hasn’t been published taught me how important it is for me to make time for writing in my life. Regardless of whether my novel gets published, or regardless of whether or not anyone else thinks my writing is any good…writing adds meaning and value to my life in a way that nothing else can.

I likely will never be a bestselling writer like Glennon Doyle Melton. But I certainly won’t if I don’t “SWEAT”: if I don’t make time to work on the craft. I can’t get the beach body by skipping the gym every morning…

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I also won’t make time for writing if I don’t have FAITH. I need to believe that I am deserving of making time to devote to my craft.

Maybe this novel won’t be published. Maybe the next one that is yet to be started won’t be either. But for me, the process of writing is enough to justify making the time to do it, even if this means early mornings, Saturday nights in, and allowing my marking to pile up every now and then.

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The next book won’t be written “one day.” The next article won’t be written “one day.” The dream won’t happen “one day.”

But it doesn’t have to happen all at once either. It will happen bit by bit, by carving out some time each day, and with a lot of faith & sweat.

This means setting boundaries on other responsibilities, setting limits on how much I do for other people, and putting myself and my own dreams & desires first sometimes.

Time to hit the gym.

 

Learn From La La Land And Choose the Life That You Want to Live

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As an avid Thought Catalog reader, I’m honoured that my article, “Learn From La La Land and Choose the Life That You Want to Live” has been published on the site.

“Instead of being liberated by the many options available to us, many of us become paralyzed by choice. We are non-committal, sampling the various flavours without making a real decision to go one way or another.”

Thought Catalog is an online magazine with over 30 million monthly readers. Thought Catalog was founded in 2010 to empower creative people by helping them realize their artistic visions on their own terms.

Click here to read my article.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

During my Spring Break from teaching, I was lucky to have had the chance to visit the Grand Canyon, Arizona, one of the seven “Natural Wonders of the World.”

It is stunning. Beautiful. Inspiring. Terrifying.

Nature has the power to stretch the limits of the imagination. When we witness the unimaginable, we are able to dream bigger and see the world through a new lens of possibility.

Bearing witness to one of the World’s Natural Wonders left me with a new perspective of how small and insignificant I am and how silly my “issues” are.

Meaning only exists inside of my own mind–what I believe to be true, real, possible. I’m only one small, speck on this Earth so I may as well create meaning that actually matters and let go of the shit that doesn’t.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

-Albert Einstein

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“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” 

-John Muir

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“Curiosity is the one thing invincible in Nature.”

-Freya Stark

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“If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed.” 

-Christopher McCandless

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“In the long run, we only hit what we aim at.” 

-Henry David Thoreau

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“It’s not always necessary to be strong, but to feel strong.”

-Jon Krakauer

 

My Writing Published on Rebelle Society

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My article, “Owning Our Choices: We Are Not Entitled to the Lives We Didn’t Choose” is published on Rebelle Society as “wisdom.”

“The choices we make will define our life, as well as the many versions of the lives we don’t have. So when we make choices, we need to be prepared to salute those ghost ships from the shore as they pass us by.”

Rebelle Society is a unique, revolutionary online magazine publishing daily acts of Creative Rebellion and celebrating the Art of Being Alive through words and mixed media. 

We’re Not Entitled to the Life We Didn’t Choose

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This article has been published on Rebelle Society.

“I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

-Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

In the final scene of La La Land, Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling), plays a heartbreaking salute on the piano to the ghost ship of his life. The life he didn’t choose flashes before his eyes.  It’s an idyllic life, the one where he achieves his dreams AND ends up with his great love.

Sebastian will never know the magic that could have been his other life. None of us can. When we go in one direction, we are also choosing NOT to go in another. Our lives are defined as much by the choices that we make as the ones we don’t.

All choices have consequences, even the ones we don’t make. 

In North American consumer culture, we seem to have forgotten that our choices have consequences. We are constantly surrounded by an abundance of options: not only can we buy barbecue chips, we can also buy ruffled, wavy, baked, or kettle-cooked; and in spicy, hot, chipotle, tangy, mesquite, hickory smoked, and sweet flavours (to name a few). We are non-committal, sampling the various flavours without making a real decision to go one way or another.

If you are lonely on a Friday night, all it takes is a couple of swipes on Tinder to find a range of prospective dates. Then we break up with each other by ‘ghosting’ and move onto the replacement as quickly as we left, or often it seems, before we even left at all.

As the world becomes more and more globalized, it is becoming easier for many of us (especially if we have Western white privilege) to travel and work abroad. This results in an endless list of possible career paths and destinations to add to our bucket lists.

Instead of being liberated by the many options available to us, many of us become paralyzed by choice. As Barry Schwartz, the author of The Paradox of Choice emphasizes, this culture of “over-choice” has detrimental outcomes as it prevents us from contributing to society in a meaningful way. We fail to choose because we don’t want to feel the pain or regret that’s associated with making the wrong choice. But we aren’t helping society or ourselves by doing nothing.

We only need to look at the recent US election, where nearly half of all registered voters didn’t vote, to see the consequences of the choices that people don’t make (read: Trump).

It’s important to “own” our choices.

Instead of being non-committal, we need to own the choices that we make. This allows us to continue making subsequent choices: either to correct mistakes that we made or continue in a similar direction. By making a decision, even if its the wrong decision, we put ourselves in a position to do something about the consequences if necessary.

In the last decade, I’ve worked as a teacher in three different countries and five different cities. Now that I’m back home, I’m feeling envious of friends who chose to stay in one place. As Facebook and Instagram constantly remind me, they now have stable careers, happy families, and financial security.

This has left me wondering: should I have stayed home too?

Maybe then, I too, would be where they are. Maybe I would have the job I’m seeking now. Maybe I’d have savings instead of debt. Maybe a man I loved wouldn’t have chosen someone else. Maybe I’d be happier. Maybe none of these things would have happened. Maybe all of them would have.

Importantly, though, the choices I have made have led me to who I am now.

I’ve trekked through expeditions in the Andes, Alaska, and the Arctic. I can speak English, French, and Spanish and a few phrases in Inuktitut. I’ve learned to understand and forgive myself more. I’ve met incredible friends all over the world. I can reconcile with the fact that I lived authentically, and made the decisions that I thought were right at the time with the information I had. So any thoughts of regret or feelings of envy are connected to a sense of entitlement over the path I didn’t choose.

By “owning” my choices, I’m better able to appreciate that I chose a different path, the one that was more authentically me. Just because my life looks different than some of my friends’ right now, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its own unique value.

Fear and unworthiness lead us astray. 

There have definitely been a few occasions in my life where I’ve made decisions knowing that they were wrong for me. While I have tried to be self-compassionate (I’m human and make mistakes), I’ve realized that in these situations, my inability to make the right decision was blocked by one of two elements: fear or unworthiness. 

Here’s one example:

When I was in university I didn’t try out for the basketball team. I went to the training camp, saw how competitive the tryouts were going to be, and decided that I probably wasn’t good enough to make the team. I spoke to the basketball coach after the training camp and he told me that he wasn’t sure if I would make it. He couldn’t say yes or no. He would decide at tryouts.

But I never went to the try-outs. I was afraid of getting cut, so I didn’t go.

I chose to play rugby instead, which ended up being a great experience overall and connected me with an incredible group of lifelong friends who I still hang out with regularly. So everything worked out and in many ways I feel grateful for the choice that I made. But there was always this nagging desire to play basketball. I even spent the whole summer after first year training to tryout for the basketball team the next year. (I didn’t.)

In hindsight, it would have been much better for me if I would have tried out for the basketball team and let the coach decide whether or not I was good enough. At the end of the day, the person who put a value on my worth, the person who decided that I wasn’t good enough, was me.

My fear of getting cut had two negative consequences.

The first is that it prevented me from succeeding. I didn’t try so I didn’t make it.

The second is that it held me back from embracing the path that I’d chosen: rugby, whole-heartedly. I could have spent my summer after first year devoting myself to becoming a better rugby player, which would have been a more valuable contribution to the rugby team. But I didn’t. This taught me that when we fail to choose authentically, we don’t only hurt ourselves; we hurt the people around us as well.

Similar scenarios unfold all of the time in relationships.

Someone I loved very much told me that we couldn’t be together because he “wasn’t good enough for me.” This made me very sad because he was the person who decided he was not worthy of the relationship, not me.

It was very difficult for me to accept when I learned that he had chosen to be with someone else, because it made me wonder: Is he settling for less because he doesn’t feel like he is worthy of what he actually wants?

In the end, I realized that I can only control the choices that I make, and with time and tears (lots and lots of tears!), I worked on letting go, even though it was not what I wanted. While I chose him, I had to learn to accept that he didn’t choose me, whether or not I agreed with his justifications for not doing so.

Acceptance.

Back to Sebastian and La La Land.

When the life Sebastian didn’t choose flashes before his eyes, he doesn’t try to fight it or change it. He doesn’t act entitled to it. He accepts it with tragic grace.

Sebastian made a choice to follow his dreams and he pursued that path with everything he had. He made a commitment to live authentically, and didn’t hold himself back due to fear of failure or regret or a sense of unworthiness. He went all in, and embraced his choice wholeheartedly.

The choices we make will define our lives, as well as the many versions of the lives we don’t have. So when we make choices, we need to be prepared to salute those ghost ships from the shore as they pass us by.

This means being able to ask ourselves two important questions:

Can I accept the choices I’ve made?

Am I living the life I imagined?

Since we can’t predict the future, we will never know the outcomes of our choices before we make them. Being able to answer “yes” to these two questions is the best that any of us can hope for.

The only life to which we are entitled is the one we are living right now, so we owe it to ourselves to choose the life we want to be living.