Monday, October 31, 2011

NaNoWriMo: It Begins!

And so, it begins.
In just over 5 hours, I will be embarking on one of the most daunting, stimulating, exciting and fascinating events of my life, thus far. In just 30 days time, I will have written over 50,000 words of my novel, "It Made All The Difference".
It will be mentally draining, but I don't really care. This is something that I want to do. It's something I have to do. I have a story to tell, and it is bouncing around my head, trying to get out. If I let it out, in theory, my head will clear and I will be able to get down to the rest of the stories battling for supremacy in my head.
As daunting and intimidating as this might seem, I'm going to do it. I'm going to be a NaNoWinner, as they call it. That means that I will have reached and verified my word count of 50,000 words. And the cool thing is that two people I know from the real world are doing it too. A couple of people from my Tumblr blog that I talk to are thinking about it. I hope they both do it, as their writing, from what I have seen, is wonderful.
I hope to be able to make regular updates as to my progress. But, until then, I have 5 hours to finish my outline and then get some sleep. Tomorrow, it begins...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Some more about me

Some people that I know in the real world, will know this already. Some of you lovely followers will read this, others won’t bother and it won’t affect them in the slightest. And that’s ok, as far as I’m concerned. But, I thought it was time to reveal a little more about me, and maybe learn something from the telling.

So, I suffer from a condition called XLH. Suffer is the wrong word actually, because I don’t really suffer with the condition. Better to say that I have XLH. It is a metabolic condition which affects my kidney functions. No, I don’t require dialysis treatment. What happens is, that my kidneys cannot process vitamin D and phosphates into calcium. Calcium is one of the essential building blocks for healthy bones, therefore, my bones are naturally softer than a “normal” person. When I was a kid, this meant that my legs bent, or bowed, to use the correct technical term, under my growing weight.

When I was 3 and 4 years old, I had surgery to correct the leg bowing. Thankfully, I don’t actually remember that time, nor the pain. The only memory I have is of being in a full body cast, and my dad carrying me downstairs so that I could watch TV during the day. Unfortunately, the medication I was on to manage the condition wasn’t strong enough, so within a few years, my legs had bowed again. Which meant that, when I was a teenager, I had to have yet more surgery to correct the bowing and give me a “normal” appearance.

One of the main symptoms, or characteristics of XLH sufferers, is that they are of short stature, i.e. significantly shorter than other people who don’t have the condition. I ended up being 5’1, which is considered to be relatively tall for people with the condition. Some people end up being well under 5’0. This was difficult for me growing up, as most of my friends are several inches taller than me. Yes, I got bullied when I was younger, in primary school, before the second bout of surgeries. And I was able to get over it after some time, but it left me a bitter, and defensive/aggressive person. Understandable, you might think, but for a time, I was a very unpleasant man.

Nowadays, I am more comfortable with myself, and have accepted everything. I am much more tolerant, and infinitely more pleasant! However, one side effect from the surgeries is that my left leg is exactly one inch longer than my right leg. This not only plays havoc with my wardrobe (lol but true!), but as I didn’t really cop on to it for a number of years, it has left me with a nasty limp, and quite often, some very debilitating back pain. I have a special shoe to help level my hips and allow my back to settle down and try to heal, but these things are very expensive, and not every shoe can be modified to suit. So, basically, I have to go on as I am, until I can either no longer walk, or can afford more surgery, or some much better shoes.

But, this leads to another problem. And something that also hurts to my very core. My physicality is very noticeable. And quite often, at least when I lived in Ireland, I would hear this little voice behind me in the supermarket saying “Mommy, look at that funny small man and the way he walks.” While I can understand a child remarking about something or someone that is different from the norm, I cannot understand why a parent simply shushes the child, who then goes on to complain or make even louder comments, because he or she thinks that Mommy hasn’t heard their comment.

Having this condition, and living with it and the side effects are one thing. But having to deal with other people’s ignorance is something completely different. And I know that I am not alone in this. I am not the only person to ever have suffered with a condition and be ridiculed or made an example of by “normal” people who simply don’t understand your condition. Every day of the week, I have seen or heard of people who are afflicted with some far more debilitating illnesses and conditions than mine. People who often display no outward differences that would give away the fact of their condition. For example, you cannot see most cancers. Lupus is not readily identifiable from a first glance. Nor is depression, certain other mental illnesses, and indeed other medical conditions.

Yes, I am different from you, and your children. I implore any of you that are parents to EDUCATE your children on how to behave around “different” people. Don’t shush them just because YOU are embarrassed by their statement. Tell them that the person they see is different, but that it is ok to be different. Tell them that other people have different illnesses that we can’t see. Tell them that this is ok too, because it is the way of the world. In any case, why the hell are YOU getting embarrassed about someone else’s physical appearance or condition? Or is it just that you are shocked that your little darling child has spoken out? Get over it and educate your child, but don’t punish them. They haven’t done anything wrong, as they are just too young to understand the meaning of different. And that is where YOU, as a parent, SHOULD be stepping in.

We are not monsters or aliens or anything sinister at all. We are human beings, just like you, only slightly different. And we have the same rights as you do. So, don’t be embarrassed or shocked. Celebrate differences, rejoice that we are not all born equal. For that is our greatest strength.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Life Coaching

Hi readers! In my last post, I said I would write about another hugely formative experience along my decision making road, and the path to the life change. Near the end of my time with my last employers, one of the managers asked me, in passing, if I was interested in Life Coaching, as he knew someone that was looking for a couple of people to do pro bono sessions for, as a start. I said I would give it some thought, but before anything happened, my job ended. Credit due to the manager though, he phoned me out of the blue a few days after that and set me up with his Life Coach friend.

Initially, I was unsure what to expect, and as with most situations, I went in with a relatively open mind. The first session was more about introductions and assessing my suitability, and gaining a background on my life, in order to help direct the way the following sessions would work. Still, for an introductory session, I found it quite good, and fairly enlightening. After just an hour, I already felt lighter as a person. Strange, but it’s actually true.

I was going away for a short trip after the first session, so we set the second session for a few weeks later, to tie in with both our calendars. The second session was also very eye-opening. I won’t go into every detail, as these are private between the coach and the coached person. But, what I will say is that Kate, my coach, was very skilful in guiding me along the path that we had both agreed upon. Coaching is about helping a person to figure out certain aspects of their life, and to see what, if anything, needs to be changed, and in some cases, how to go about making changes. Very often though, the coach is not the one who makes the suggestions. The coach is your guide, the person that listens to your words, challenges your perceptions and thought processes, and helps you come to the realisations that you need to embark on the changes.

Naturally, some of my thoughts were focused on getting back into the workforce as quickly as possible. But, there were other factors that we discussed. Somehow, along the way and I still can’t remember where this popped out or what she asked to make me say it, but I told Kate that I enjoyed writing, or at least I did in the past. I explained that I had part written a script in school and then decided to turn it into a novel. It’s something that I never finished, but I have given thought to it every now and then. I also told her that I had two more novels that were either started, or in the idea generation and character treatment stage.

She asked me why I had never continued working on them, or finished them, and shamefully, I admitted to the dreaded writer’s block and distraction. Which certainly has been genuine, I might add! She then asked me had I ever shown my work to anyone, and I admitted that nobody, not even family, has seen my work, apart from a short story I wrote in school for a class assignment in English. She apologised straight away, as she was about to step over the established boundaries of the relationship, but she told me to basically get my head out of the sand, show my work to other people, and to start writing.

Then she said something that really resonated with me. She said, “You obviously have talent, and I can see that it means a lot to you too. So get writing. And stop making excuses!”

It was at that point that I really realised what a Life Coach is. Although Kate is the only Life Coach I have had significant experience of, she has opened my eyes to the kinds of people they are. Kate, and I am quite sure many other Life Coaches, are highly perceptive, empathetic, kind and generous people. It takes a certain kind of man or woman to be a Life Coach, and to do the kind of work they do. I have had people tell me that it’s just a fad, a folly, and that they do nothing more than prey on a person’s vulnerability.

To those people I say, no. You are so far removed from the truth and the actuality of the profession. These folk aren’t head shrinkers, evil, voodoo doctors or anything bad. And, no. It isn’t a religious thing either, unless that’s where your path is leading you, or it’s something that you consider highly important. The whole idea is to discuss the things that are important to you, or that you want guidance, and perhaps help, in changing or improving. What’s wrong or evil about that?

To cut a long story short, Kate has had a huge effect on me and my recent life. She encouraged me to stop giving into the fear of rejection for my writing, and helped me to see that it is the encouragement of others that help to improve a writer’s style and ability. Not long after my coaching sessions with Kate, I emailed a couple of trusted friends and asked if they would mind looking over my writings. I was still terrified that they would come back and say my work was awful, but thankfully that didn’t happen. In fact, quite the opposite. My friends gave me some very positive and also quite constructive feedback which helped me with edits that I had missed or correcting story gaps and stuff like that.

And since then, I have gone forward with my writing. Not back to the novels, not yet. But I have written lots of short stories, and even a few poems. And, believe it or not, some of them have actually been published! It will be a longer process, but I will eventually get my novels published. But I have Life Coaching, and Kate to thank for getting me back to doing something I loved. Writing. At the end of our coaching sessions, Kate emailed me and asked if I could write a short testimonial about my experiences and preconceptions. So I did. Kate replied the next day and told me that what I had written was beautiful. She said I had a way with words and that I should not deny the world of my talent for writing.

I honestly write, because I love doing it. That I can bring a smile, or a tear or any other kind of emotional or physiological response to a reader with my words, is the best testament and thanks that any writer can ever ask for. I have also written about sadder things too, and the response to that was overwhelming. Not only do I love writing, but I find it can be as therapeutic as cooking, another of my passions. To my readers, my friends, my family, and anyone who is touched by the words I write. Thank you, because without you, I wouldn’t be a writer.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Loss: The Trigger

The year that was 2010 did not begin well for me. It started with closing out a reasonably good 2009 with a trip to France to celebrate Christmas with my parents, which was normal for me anyway. The nice thing about this trip was that my younger brother and his wife were spending the holidays with us together. This was the first Christmas we had all been together since 2003, something that had been grating on me for a while now. The New Year was rung in as usual, and my flight back to Dublin was on the 2nd of January from Barcelona. Since it was an early morning flight, I decided to drive down the day before and stay the night in a hotel.

That leg of the journey was fine, despite the best efforts of my GPS in locating the hotel! It was a pleasant enough evening, although for me, the bed was incredibly uncomfortable and left me with significant back pain. Anyway, I drove to the airport the next morning, and returned my hire car, full of diesel and so on. I checked in as normal, took my time walking up to the gate and poured around some of the shops as I walked. When I got to the gate, I checked the departure screens which showed an hour’s delay for my flight. I thought this was kind of understandable as Ireland was experiencing some extreme weather in the shape of snow and ice. How wrong I was.

It turns out that our flight had never even left Dublin due to a decision on the part of the airline. This was despite the fact that many other airlines were safely using Dublin airport for take-offs and landings. So, with a cancelled flight and no availability until the following Tuesday, I needed to either find a place to stay, or get back to my parents in France. I checked my account balances but since some monthly payments had already gone through, I was running quite low, meaning I needed to get back to France. Thanks to the time of year and the wonders of the transport system, it took 2 trains, a bus, a blazing row with the bus driver and 19 hours of stressful travelling before I was back in the comfort of the place in France.

February wasn’t much better. In fact, it was a whole lot worse. My car got damaged, courtesy of one of Ireland’s wonderful citizens and as a result, I lost my no-claims bonus on my insurance after having to fork out for the repairs. Two weeks later, it got even worse. I got called into the boardroom to face my manager, my MD, the Financial Controller and another person. “Andrew, I’m sorry but we’re letting you go. Here’s a severance package and a reference. Please clear your desk now.” To say I was devastated would be an understatement. I rather shakingly cleared my personal effects into a box and bag, said goodbye to a few cherished colleagues and walked to my car. I climbed behind the wheel and closed my eyes, trying to compose myself, but the tears came and rolled down my cheek. Ironically, I wasn’t worried about myself. I was worried about how I was going to keep paying for my much loved car! Strange the things we think about when the worst happens.

Oddly, by the time I made it home some twenty minutes later, I was actually feeling relieved. I felt much lighter, my head was clear and the pangs of sadness and tears were long gone. I sent a few texts, but I didn’t tell my parents. I chatted with my flatmate that evening and realised that everything was going to be ok. After five years of hard work, long hours, and stress that at times was so severe that I developed chest pains and palpitations, I was free. It felt good. I chatted with a couple of close friends over the internet that night and they were all filled with worry and asked things like, “What are you going to do? How are you going to live?”

And yet, through all of this questioning, I was smiling! I had to go back to the office the following day to run through my files and abandoned work with a former colleague and a number of people remarked on how well I looked, even though it had only been a few hours. On reflection, that in itself proved to me that losing my job was in fact, a good thing.

That day, I also went straight to the local Social Welfare office and showed them all of my details and got myself signed on as unemployed. My CV was revamped and I started scouring the adverts, job websites, recruitment agencies and so on. Initially I was confident of being able to get a job relatively quickly. I mean, to look at my CV, you will find a strong record of work experience across a diverse range of industries and companies. And the job I had just left showed a strong progression from entry level to my most recent position within the company, which attracted significant responsibilities. Yet, I had not received any phone calls requesting an interview. Not even from an over-zealous recruitment agency. Two months later, I was getting worried, very worried.

In August 2010, I started on a ten-week management course with the Irish state training agency, which was then called FAS. During the course, we went through a section designed to revamp the attendee’s CV and get the person themselves ready to go to interview. It was also designed to help the attendees find out if there was some other career or path for them to follow. And the more I participated in the class, the more I realised that Ireland was no longer the source of my future. I had been texting my parents back and forth about various ideas for menus, recipes and general chat and kind of brazenly suggested that I move over to France in 2011 in order to start work on my new dream. I had finally discovered what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to work in the wine business in France to develop contacts for the future. I decided that I wanted to eventually emigrate to the United States and open a wine shop. And possibly uniquely, import my stock directly from the winemakers across France and Europe that I had been working with already.

So there it is, the trigger that lead to me finally figuring out what I want to do with my life after 35 years of trying. The next post will be about another formative experience along the road to where I am. Thanks for reading!


Friday, June 3, 2011


For a first post, I thought it best to do something of an introduction. Well, as it says above, my name is Andrew and I wanted to write this blog to document my journey. This was no ordinary trip down the road or on holiday. This was a mental journey to get myself in the right frame of mind to make a life-changing move. But I also want to pay some small attention to the physical trip itself.

Just to give some background on me, I have more than fifteen years of work experience in sales, marketing, administration and management. I hold a diploma in marketing and several certificates in computer technology and software. However, these, to my mind now, were just jobs. Things to give me experience along the road of life. I lost my last job in February 2010 and since then, I have been gearing up to starting my new life and career. Almost a year after that horrible moment when the boss said “We have to let you go”, I finally made that move.

I emigrated to France in February 2011 to work alongside my parents who made the move in 2004. They run a small Bed and Breakfast business with a café/restaurant in a peaceful but historic village in the South of France. Since food and wine is one of my passions, and have been cooking since I was a child, it made sense to combine work and passion and make the move. Although I am not a qualified chef, since moving here I have received many compliments about my cooking and knowledge of wines.

While part of my work is in the kitchen or giving wine tastings to guests, another part of my work is in the development and advancement of marketing the business. This is nothing more than using my skills and experience in marketing and social media to give the business the exposure it deserves. And, no doubt there will be other exciting developments along the way!

But back to the journey. It took a lot for me to make this move, and I should admit that sometimes I still wonder what might have been. Or if there will be something else along my path. But the truth is, I had no choice but to move away from Ireland. Given the current difficulties in that country, there were no jobs available for me. It took almost a year of trying to make the decision and come to the realisation that there was little to no future in Ireland for me.

In writing the blog, I hope that I will be able to document, and perhaps even rationalise my feelings and thoughts on the move. I plan to write about the way the Social Welfare system works in Ireland and my experiences of it. Sometimes, I might also delve into some personal items, such as my past, childhood, and events that helped to shape the man I am today. Some of these were hugely happy for me, but others were devastatingly sad too, including the death of someone I loved at the end of 2010.

I hope you will enjoy reading about my exploits, both recent and distant past. Hopefully you will laugh sometimes, or find my words inspiring or helpful. Maybe you will even cry from the sad times. I look forward to telling the tale of My Journey!