Breaking the Rules

Jun 8, 2015 by

Breaking the Rules

I’ve never been one for breaking the rules. Maybe it’s because I’m a product of Catholic schools. The nuns got to me early, constantly drilling the rules into my head. Don’t color outside the lines. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Be quiet in church, and always remember to pray with your hands pointed reverently toward heaven so God will take notice.

Those pesky rules. I rarely, if ever, dared to break them. Once I actually colored outside the lines, as evidenced by the yellow scribbles on my little duckie drawing which dates back to 1st grade. And it didn’t help that my mother was a teacher. She was always after me, too. Brush your teeth every night. Don’t pick your nose. And don’t scratch, she’d say, no matter how much or where it itches. The hardest rule of all? Be nice to your little sister. There were just the two of us, and Mary Lee was nearly three years younger than me. She was such a pest, always wanting to tag along with my friends and me. Sometimes I told her to ‘go home‘. Most times, I just ignored her. I’m sure the only reason I have my Kathleen with arm around Mary Lee, Kathleen Irene Paterkaarm around her in this photo is because my mother insisted. Another rule to follow.

As I grew older, the rules continued. Study hard. Grades are important. You want to go to college, don’t you? I made straight A’s year after year, but not because I was smarter than anyone else. The truth is, I was scared of the nuns, plus all the adults who told me that they knew best. And so I continued following the rules. Looking back now, some of them seem rather ridiculous. Never wear white shoes before Memorial Day. Don’t mix and match gold and silver jewelryAlways eat your dinner salad before the main course.

Are rules made to be broken? What about the rule that there is a natural order to things, and that we all go on to live good, long lives? In 1994, my sister Mary Lee (36 yrs old) was diagnosed with cancer. She died nine months later. During that time, I quit writing in order to focus on our family, and help Mary Lee as much as I could. Following her death, I told myself that my writing could wait until my daughter Abby (then in 8th grade) headed off to college. Years passed, Abby went to college, and I still hadn’t picked up my writing. I had yet to be published. Would I ever see my name in print, and one of my books on the library shelf? It wouldn’t happen if I didn’t start. Still, I made excuse after excuse. Writing a novel requires a huge commitment of time, energy, and emotions, and I wasn’t ready to make that commitment again. It was easier NOT to write. Meanwhile, the voices kept chattering in my head… to the point where finally one day, I no longer could ignore them. I sat down at the computer and started writing again. And that’s when I made a new rule for myself: Write every day. I figured, if it’s good enough for Stephen King, it’s good enough for me. King is one of the authors I most admire. In his book On Writing, he makes a startling confession. King informs readers on pg. Stephen King, ON WRITING153 that he used to tell interviewers that he wrote every day except for Christmas, the Fourth of July, and his birthday. Then he goes on to admit that he’d told them a lie. He didn’t want people knowing the truth, that he DOES write every day. He didn’t want to sound like a ‘workaholic dweeb‘ (King’s words, not mine). During those periods of ‘full stop‘, he feels at loose ends with himself, and has trouble sleeping. “For me,” King says, “not working is the real work. When I’m writing, it’s all the playground, and the worst three hours I ever spent were still pretty damned good.”

Not working is the real work‘. I’ve felt like that about each of my books, and I’ve loved spending time on the playground… until now. My personal and my writing life experienced a head-on collision about eight months ago, when my 92 yr. old mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I’d just finished my latest novel The Other Wife, and was beginning research for my new project (another book in the James Bay series). Though I continued at my desk each morning, my heart was no longer in it. With my mother’s diagnosis, my priorities changed. I remember feeling numb, like I’d tumbled down a rabbit hole and ended up in some strange new world called Here We Go Again – Helping Your Family Deal With Cancer and Beyond. I couldn’t think about the new book, or anything else. It was a time when my emotions were in overdrive, as were the grief and guilt. I felt like I should be writing, but how could I take (or make) the time? My mother had no one else to turn to. My father had died many years before, and Mary Lee was also gone. Thank God for my husband Steve. He was such a source of comfort and support. And Steve knew I was struggling. I’ve always been my own worst critic. I’m also very good at pushing myself to the limits, to a point where I’m so tired, I lose all perspective of what’s important. Steve urged me to take care of myself, to quit trying to be it all and do it all.

After my mother died in March, I hoped and prayed that everything would return to normal. But it hasn’t. Part of me still feels as if I’Coloring outside the lines, Kathleen Irene Paterkam stumbling around in the rabbit hole. Can I find my way back? Yes, but I know it will take time. A few weeks ago, I finally decided to take Steve’s advice for purposes of self-preservation (mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually) and ease up on myself. And so, I’m purposely breaking the rule (my self-imposed rule) of writing every day. I’m giving myself permission to take the summer off. For now, this seems like a good decision, and I feel so relieved. I intend to spend some time reading books from my TBR pile. I’m going to play more, and worry less. I want to enjoy life, hold hands with my husband, and take a vacation (we’re booked for 10 days in Hawaii! Doesn’t that sound spectacular?). Meanwhile, if I do hear the voices urging me to begin writing before summer’s end, that’s okay too. It means that the time is right. The playground is there, calling to me. And I will listen.

But for now, please excuse me. My crayons and a coloring book are waiting.

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  1. It isn’t always easy to break the rules–especially ones that we set for ourselves with hopes of making ourselves the best version of ourselves. But it’s wise, and brave, to understand that sometimes we need to give ourselves a break. Especially when we need time to heal. Sending lots of thoughts your way.

    • Kathleen Irene Paterka

      Laura, that’s it exactly. I feel like I need a break, or I will fall apart. If that happened, I would never be any good for anyone, including myself… and guaranteed I would never write another book. Thank you for the warm thoughts. So much appreciated. ~ Kathleen

  2. Like reading, writing should be for pleasure, not done under pressure. I hope you find your way and pick up your pen, Kathleen, but only if and when you want to. Best of luck! 🙂 xx

    • Kathleen Irene Paterka

      Sheryl, I know that I’ll find my way back to the playground someday. The pen will be there waiting, as will the swings, slides, and monkey bars (remember them?). I’m looking forward to returning to the playground… after a bit of a ‘long summer’s nap’. Thanks so much for the encouragement. xxoo ~ Kathleen

      • You friends will still be here, Kathleen. 🙂 xx

        • Kathleen Irene Paterka

          Sheryl, someday the two of us will hang upside down together on the monkey bars!xxoo

  3. Hi Kathleen –

    Wonderful post. Take your time. Heal. You must take care of yourself first!

    • Kathleen Irene Paterka

      Tracy, thank you. As a fellow author, I know you ‘get it’. Writing is hard work. It’s mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting, but the rewards are ultimately worth it. Right now, I feel like I’ve broken something inside me. I’m not wearing a cast (perhaps on my heart?), but I know things will take time to heal. And once that happens, look out! Writing playground, here I come! ~ Kathleen

  4. Beautiful post, Kathleen. Thank you for sharing it. That’s the great thing about writing — it will always be there waiting for you when you’re ready. 🙂

    • Kathleen Irene Paterka

      Thank you, Shelly. The writing community is filled with such supportive friends. I consider myself truly blessed. xxoo ~ Kathleen