Turning Your Life Into A Powerful Story

by Amy Oestreicher
Shopping lists, to-do lists, packing lists—lists are an easy way for busy people to retain information.

Of all places, I found myself making the most lists in the hospital. And of all kinds of lists (after a surgery that went terribly wrong) I found myself creating a gratitude list.

[You can catch up on a bit of Amy's personal story here.]

your life, your story

I'd make myself think of something I was grateful for from A to Z, even when I hated my circumstances. By rummaging through my angry and frustrated thoughts, some positivity eventually emerged. By the time I reached Z, my life had not changed dramatically, but my thoughts had.

Finding Gratitude and Starting Your Story

You don't need a set of fancy paints to create art; you don't need a picture-perfect life to find every day gratitude; and you certainly don't need a fancy hardcover journal to start a grateful list. Take a blank page, letter it A to Z from beginning to end, and just start. It doesn't have to make sense. Some words can be a bit of a stretch. It's even okay to get away with "x-citement" or "quanberry juice." It's just to get your head in a different place.

And sometimes, when your head's in a different place...

Your body will be too.

Where's the most outlandish place you can find gratitude today?

In the hospital, I made daily gratitude lists when there wasn't much to immediately be grateful for.  But finding gratitude was a way to make "sense" of my story. If I were grateful for things happening, they could fit into my life. I could own what happened to me and make something from it. These grateful lists were my life story being spelled out night after night.


The Power of Our Stories

This taught me a valuable lesson: Stories make us stronger. Stories make us think differently.

And there is strength in thinking, seeing, and doing things differently.

Everyone loves a good story. Is there a book or poem you've read that has always stuck with you? A certain metaphor from a whimsical children's story that resonated with you as a child? I remember always loving the book Harold and the Purple Crayon. I loved the idea of a little child being able to create his own world. It made me feel like I could, too.

That's the beauty of a metaphor: Through a larger vision, we can relate with our own unique stories. That is also the power of storytelling. Everyone's story is different. But we all can relate to emotions. If you're human, you've felt sadness. You've felt hunger, pain, joy, loss. If you're a human on this earth, you've felt life. Look all around you and you'll see life growing, dying, changing and regenerating daily.

And THAT is something we can all be grateful for, right?  That even though we're dealing with difficult times, we are not alone.  We never have been.


Finding Your Story

As I contemplate the next steps I wish to take in my own personal journey—my own beautifully messy detour—I find myself wondering how to best share my story and have it help others.

Then I think about some of my favorite movies: Disney movies—I'm not a lion, or a king; I don't live under the sea, transport myself in a magic pumpkin, or have 101 dalmatians.

But I've felt betrayal. (The Lion King)

I've looked for hope in the oddest of places. (The Little Mermaid.)

I've lost hope. (The Beast.)

I've been so angry I haven't even known what to do with myself. (Every Disney villain...)

I've felt love when I thought I couldn't feel at all. (Lady & The Tramp)

I've felt fear. (Belle)

I've felt bravery. (Alice In Wonderland)

I've felt life. (Snow White)

I don't have a story you hear every day. I thought I had my life all figured out, until an unexpected blood clot interrupted my "life plans."

For a while, my story was a tale I couldn't understand, like the sick plot of a psychological thriller. Then, one day I opened up a journal and I began to write.

Through the power of words, I was able to understand my own story and share it. My story became part of me, rather than something I continued to run from. Now, I use my story to bring out the stories that unite us all.

I can't really compare my life to a Disney movie, but I can say this: We all have ebbs and flows in our lives—our peaks and valleys. My story, your story, our stories—they're all the same. The specifics are not important in the end. What's important is that we keep telling them.

Just hearing someone else's story makes us feel the same pain or joy that they have experienced. It's sharing them that makes us stronger.
That's how we know we're not alone.

You have a story too.

Our stories make us stronger.  So today—tell yours.

Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.

As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she's toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre for college campuses and international conferences. Her original, full-length drama, Imprints, premiered at the NYC Producer's Club in May 2016, exploring how trauma affects the family as well as the individual.

To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others cope in the face of unexpected events. "Detourism" is also the subject of her TEDx and upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, available December 2017.
As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she's contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC's TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others.
She has devised workshops for conferences nationwide, and is this year's keynote speaker for the Hawaii Pacific Rim International Conference on Diversity and Disability. Learn the art of navigating beautiful detours and sign up for updates at amyoes.com.

Do you want to know how you can be a guest blogger on the Blank Spaces blog?
See our sidebar for blog submission guidelines.

The Sovereign State of Plan B

by Geraldine Mac Donald

The words are trapped inside, held fortress-tight in the Keep, but they singe your throat like firewater, urging your body to spit them out. There’s no way you can guard this forever. It won’t do you any good. You have to share. So first you whisper, cough and sputter, and watch as the eyes of your listeners glaze over in boredom. A second attempt happens almost accidentally when you’re caught in that excruciating lull at the feast where no one is speaking. The firewater boils up, scalds your tongue and prompts you to fill blank spaces, “I’m self-publishing a fiction novel for young adults.” 

pro self-publishing
Instantly you know it can go one of two ways...

The banquet table seated with those formidable knights, whom you’ve just met for the very first time over one flagon of red wine and two rations of blue cheese, will be enthralled, inquisitive, as astonished as you are about this inconceivable crusade; or, they’ll drop their salad forks, and their eyes, in search of an entree that isn’t so tasteless.

I used to be one of those people who might hear such news and on the surface say, “That’s remarkable. Congratulations!” while somewhere deep inside the cracks and crevices of my wretched mind I’d be thinking, ‘Poor thing couldn’t find a ‘real publisher’’.
Never more! 

Never again will I underestimate a self-published author.

Never more will I undervalue their work, or my own.

 “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

                            (Sir Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven, 5th stanza, 1845)

It niggled at the back of my mind, inconsequentially shelved as Plan B, for the entire two years it took to write the novel. But the closer I got to finishing my hard-earned creation, the further I turned from embracing a traditional publishing method.

I knew the statistics. I’d heard the warnings and advice from all those experts in the field. I knew it was next to impossible to be chosen from the slush pile that comes in over the transom. Yes, I did send it to some major publishing houses who took their slow time to swiftly reject it; and yes I had, at some point, fantasized that they might release me from the burden of having to do it all myself (Not to mention printing ten thousand copies, distributing it to worldwide acclaim and turning me into the next John Green).

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the process of envisioning, plotting, writing, constructing, editing, re-writing, designing and publishing a novel, it’s the fact that every single instance is worth that burden; therefore, it’s not a burden at all.
The advantages are many, but there are some caveats. Let it be known that self-publishing is not for the fainthearted: it's not for the weary or timid writer who prefers to stay secreted inside the castle Keep. One must stand atop the tallest tower and let loose their words on winged arrows to soar across the kingdom. One must champion their work and be royally proud of it. One must lift the gates and lower the drawbridge. One must remove their armour, jump into the melee and take liberty as their own.

Freedom, after all, is what stands at the heart of self-publishing; making it more real, more accessible, and more achievable than ever before. You are not a prisoner of the castle. You are its Ruler. 

Sumac Summer book cover by Geraldine Mac DonaldSumac Summer is a young adult (YA) fiction drama for readers 11+. It tells the story of Eliza Bergman, a fourteen-year-old girl who is struggling to overcome family tragedy. Her parents send her to summer camp in order to help her heal, but just when Camp Sumac, with its weird girls and snarling horses, starts to feel less like detention and more like fun, disaster strikes and Eliza’s world is fractured. Accompany her as she learns to confront her deepest fears, honour friendships, and make the life-altering changes that she needs to move on.

Sumac Summer is Geraldine MacDonald’s first [self-published] novel.

Now available in digital format on www.amazon.ca, www.amazon.com, and www.kobobooks.com in global territories.

Print editions are available through the author and in the following independent book stores in Ontario, Canada: Books Galore and More in Port Perry, and Novel Idea in Kingston. See websites or stores for details.

Special thanks to the Editor-in-Chief of Blank of Spaces Magazine, Alanna Rusnak, for engaging this community of creatives and giving us a forum for our artistic passions, and for the opportunity to share this blog post. You can reach Geraldine MacDonald at info.editor@winterwindpress.ca or connect with her on her blog and on Facebook and Instagram. 

author Geraldine Mac DonaldGeraldine Mac Donald is a graduate of Queen's University, a former registered nurse, a medical/scientific translator; a writer, published author, and mother of four. One favourite memory of childhood was when she discovered that town libraries were public and anyone could get a card! It was a life-changing day. Her first novel for young adults has recently been released to rave reviews. Her second novel will be released in 2016. Besides translating medical stuff she writes fiction and creative nonfiction. Geraldine lives, works and plays with her family in Kingston, Ontario. 

Watch for a beautiful piece of creative non-fiction coming from Geraldine in our September issue!

Do you want to know how you can be a guest blogger on the Blank Spaces blog?
See our sidebar for blog submission guidelines.

On Original 'Zines & Scratch 'N Sniff Websites

by Alanna Rusnak
Day One: I took what was left in the bottom of the coffee pot—strong, day-old, cold—poured it into a chipped mug (the speckled ceramic, the one with the circles and dots that looked like breasts drawn by a sixth grader) and carried it back to my bedroom.

A stack of old National Geographic magazines sat on the carpet, piled up beside a chunk of cardboard laid out with plain white paper. A piece of garden twine hung from the top of the closet door to the handle of my top dresser drawer, clothespins lining it in wait for pieces of my project.

With a paintbrush, I brushed each piece of white paper with the cold coffee. Heavy in some places. Lightly in others. Then I hung them. Clipped them to the twine with the clothespins. Watching little drips of coffee fall to the carpet. Thinking I was perfectly okay with that as long as my mother didn't come in.

what should a magazine smell like?

I flipped Abbey Road and thanked the stars for Salvation Army Thrift Stores and my crappy $3 record player. I flipped through National Geographic and thanked the stars for bold photographers as I tore out photos and headlines I thought would encourage the poignancy of my angsty vision.

As the hung pages became nearly dry, I flicked the paintbrush at them, not unlike the blood splatter pattern at a crime scene.

I lay back on my mattress, stared up at Joey Lawrence (who flirted with me from a poster over my bed), and fell asleep to the smell of stale coffee.

Day Two: With a black pen, white glue, and my pile of torn NG images, I set about collaging my poems. I followed no rules. My only goal was creation and I found happiness in the execution.

I had been co-editor of the high school poetry magazine. I recognized the fun in creating layouts and playing with fonts. "You should make your own 'zine," one of my co-editors told me.

"What's a 'zine?" I asked.

She rolled her eyes. But then she told me. She wasn't a bad person.

I grew up before the internet and without a television. We had a little radio in the kitchen where my parents would listen to CBC's As It Happens. I had no knowledge of the art world. I knew what was in the library and what I learned at church. I knew that Leonard Cohen was my hero and John Lennon hadn't really died, he'd just been relocated to my heart. I knew writing was a need born deep in my soul. It was an instinct. I'd never seen a 'zine but that didn't stop me from carving a path of my own to make one.

Day Three: Photocopies were ten cents each and I didn't have any money. I felt embarrassed. Not because of the money thing but because I was pretty sure no one would care anyway. No one would want to read my poetry. Even though I loved writing it, I was pretty sure it was terrible, and I would die a little bit to know someone out there was looking at them and judging me.

This is just for me. The decision gave me peace.

My father had a roll of mactac and I used it to laminate my cover. I put it on my bookshelf until I moved out. Then it lived in a box of other childhood memorabilia. It still smelled like coffee when I packed it away.

Many Years Later: As the idea for Blank Spaces took root in my brain, I remembered that old poetry project like a dusty dream.

I found those original pages in a binder full of old papers and stories and high school essays. It was strange to flip through them, to try and grab hold of what I was feeling in the moment I wrote those words—words that are embarrassingly terrible but somehow brilliant because they capture a moment of me I left behind in all the business of growing up. 

And now I embark on this new project. Not a secret 'zine—but something much bigger with (what I hope will be) a great influence and audience, and it only seemed appropriate to share this little piece because somehow it feels like the beginning of it all.

I'm bothered that it no longer smells like coffee. Instead it clings on the edge of mildew, slightly damp and wilted, showing its age (and mine!) yet still dressed in the anthem of youth and that's something I'm willing to celebrate!

If you'd like to have a look at that long ago project, click on over here. Ignore the price (a necessary evil of the site) and click the Buy Digital: Free button. It will allow you to download the PDF version at no charge. You'll notice ripples in the cover where the mactac pulled away. You'll see the pages where I used too much glue or where a little creature may have nibbled away at the edges. You'll see spots of bright colour and I want you to imagine me standing over the page with a food colouring bottle, letting a drop fall from my full height so its stain will be more interesting. You'll see pictures scratched with sandpaper because I thought that was clever, and you'll see a page marked 'A Page For Sex' even though I was a virgin...

Enjoy! It's weird and wonderful and awful.

If they ever invent scratch and sniff websites, Blank Spaces will be first on the list to smell like stale coffee, white glue, and craft paper.

Alanna Rusnak is an author, a blogger, and a seeker of the extraordinary. Living with her husband, three children, and an overweight cat (who's kind of an idiot), on a small patch of untamable land in Southwestern Ontario. Trying to do it all with some measure of grace. (She is also the founder and Editor-In-Chief of this pretty little magazine!) [author website, twitter, facebook, instagram]