Jessica Ingold

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The Spirit Catchers - Chapter 1

Posted by Jessica Ingold on April 20, 2017 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (2)

All things considered, my death was pretty boring.

Let me ask you something: when do people start thinking they’re going to live a long life? For me, it was around age ten. I wanted to be an oncologist. To this day I will never know what sort of divine influence planted that idea in my mind. All I know is that having cancer and treating cancer are as different as night and day.

I was nineteen when the first symptoms appeared. They started out small, as most things usually do: a bruise here, a nosebleed there. The fatigue was constant and immutable, mirroring my every move like a shadow until it became the darkness that swallowed me whole. Vial by vial my own compromised blood wrote the final chapter of my life, turning the page on everything I thought I’d have time to do. This is cancer: the thread that unravels the rug, interrupting the patterns of our lives and the tapestry of our expectations.

My attitude toward death had always been astoundingly cavalier. I never denied this possibility, even in the early days of my diagnosis when my body still responded to chemotherapy. I thought about death often and casually: between naps, during dinner, in the privacy of my bedroom on the rare occasion that I was home. Even then, I wanted to get it over with. I thought maybe it would be like hitting a reset button, and I’d wake up the next day feeling rejuvenated. But death doesn’t work like that. Maybe if it did, we could finally break the stigma of being breakable.

My prognosis had been predictably bleak. I was told I had six months to live, but could buy myself two or three more if I consented to undergoing experimental treatment. I refused, saying there was no point in delaying the inevitable—not even if it meant that someone, somewhere, might benefit from my extended suffering.

I didn’t get six months. Instead, I got four months, three weeks, five days, two hours, and seventeen minutes. My family didn’t think this was enough time to say goodbye. I, on the other hand, thought it was too much.

A few days before my death, a woman named Joy appeared at my bedside. Joy had sat in the corner of my hospital room, next to my mother, who’d been dozing on a cot and woefully oblivious to the lean but impeccably dressed woman who’d come to claim my soul. I thought I was dreaming, but in actuality, I was just dying.

On the first day, Joy didn’t speak. Instead, she studied me in the way one might study a Picasso or a Rembrandt, with care and polite curiosity. Having Joy around made me feel safe, and it wasn’t long before I began to welcome the sight of her blue dress in a world worn grey with despair. Joy was what most people would call a guardian angel, but there are no angels at The Establishment. It was one of the many myths I had to unlearn prior to making my transition. Collecting souls is both an art and a science, and requires far more than wings to achieve.

Enter the Spirit Catchers, a diverse cohort of supernatural entities tasked with escorting human souls to the hereafter. Truthfully, the title is a misnomer: most spirits go willingly, so catching is seldom required. Being terminally ill had all but left me helpless, so when the time came for me to vacate the cancer-ridden shell of my once youthful body, I had no choice but to do whatever was asked of me. This was good news for Joy, but not for my family, who did everything they could to keep the hope—and me—alive.

On the second day, I asked Joy to tell me more about The Establishment: if it had towering iron gates and lush, manicured lawns, or ostentatious wooden doors with heavy brass knockers, or marble staircases that vanished innocently into the clouds. Joy said there was none of that. I was disappointed, but far from surprised, especially given the utilitarian nature of The Establishment’s name.

On the third day, I was calling out to her in agony. Joy had materialized in her usual spot in the corner of the room the moment her name sprang from my lips. I begged to die. I pleaded with her until my whole body tingled with exhaustion. I cried until I couldn’t breathe, until I was woozy from a lack of oxygen and the lasting effects of whatever painkillers I’d been given to ease my misery. I wanted out. When Joy didn’t take me, it felt like betrayal. But as I now know, she was only following protocol. If I’d been a little stronger, perhaps I’d have asked about this, too.

Joy didn’t take me that day. She said I wasn’t ready yet. I begged anyway. In the midst of my protest, she’d approached my bed and laid a hand on my chest. Light emanated from her fingertips as she illuminated me, erasing the layers that stood between my spirit and the world I no longer belonged to: first the itchy cream sheets, then the dull blue gown, and finally my translucent skin. By this point my body was producing bruises like a garden produced flowers and it was becoming harder to ignore the presence of ribs or the absence of fat that normally concealed them.

Joy bent her bright red lips close to my ear. She was cold and smelled like the inside of my grandmother’s armoire, and it sent shivers of familiarity all the way down my aching spine.

“Ansel says not yet,” she whispered, chilling me to the core. “Soon.”

By the fourth day, I was ready to die. My life was over, and like discovering the blank page at the end of a book I’d stared into the overhead lights and wondered who was responsible for ending my story here. I expected Joy to tell me more about this being named Ansel, but she never did.

My family came to say goodbye at 10:23AM on September 4th, 2005. It was a long goodbye. My parents cried. My brother, who never cried, sobbed until he hyperventilated. And I just lay there, waiting for Joy, who was waiting for Ansel to give her the go-ahead to collect my soul. No one noticed the fair-skinned woman knitting placidly in the corner, because I was the only one who could see her.

When it was finally time to make the transition, Joy returned her knitting needles to her bag, smoothed the wrinkles out of her dress, and walked the short distance over to my bed. I didn’t look at her. I was too busy watching my family, who’d formed a prayer circle at the foot of my bed and were muttering tearful invocations under their breath.

“An odd habit, prayer is,” Joy had remarked, folding her arms. “But I suppose it’s par for the course: after all, this is your deathbed.”

“Maybe they’re hoping Ansel will change his mind.”

“Ansel doesn’t change his mind on much of anything. Can you imagine how complicated life would be if death was always second-guessing himself?” Joy then turned to me and smiled. “Ready?”

I nodded, the machine flatlined, and then everything I ever knew suddenly disappeared.

My name is Sarah Nicole Galloway, and my job is to help people die.

Making Waves: Lynn Worthington & the Adventures of Billy Bass

Posted by Jessica Ingold on February 10, 2016 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

There’s an old saying that claims the pen is mightier than the sword, and now one children’s book author is hoping to leave his mark on the pages of history.

Like most creative types, Lynn Worthington is a firm believer in the power of the written word. Armed with a Dictaphone and a wealth of knowledge, his approach to self-promotion is as subtle as it is original: enter a food establishment as an ordinary patron and wait for curious strangers to take the bait (in this case, a life-sized lure reminiscent of his angler roots). It’s an ingenious strategy, and one that has netted him a considerable amount of interest in a world that ever longs for a good story.

Lynn is the author of Billy Bass: The 5 Waves Rocks, which explores humankind’s impact on the waterways through the eyes of a smallmouth bass named Billy. Whereas the characters are made to appeal to Lynn’s younger fans, the overriding message is sure to resonate with readers of all ages: we only have one Earth, and it’s up to us to save it.

There’s a universal attitude among members of the writing community that believes no effort is ever wasted that changes even one person’s perspective. In the pond of life, even the tiniest pebble is bound to make a ripple. This is the philosophy fueling Lynn’s mission and the driving force behind the landslide of international attention that culminated in a whopping 24,000 emails—proving yet again the power of the written word to transcend geographic and ideological barriers.

Determined to captivate the hearts and minds of the younger generation, Lynn recently added another stop on his journey to promote Billy Bass. On Saturday, February 6th, he made an appearance at Kelsey’s restaurant in Bowmanville, Ontario, where several young patrons participated in a colouring contest for prizes, including goody bags, gift cards, and a few larger items to be distributed at the discretion of the judges (in this case, the wait staff).

Like all stories, the story of Billy Bass doesn’t end at the last page. At its heart, it’s a story about triumph: triumph over the external forces beyond our control, and triumph over ourselves in the face of doubt and uncertainty. In a world that often seems to be moving too quickly, the permanence of a printed book is an underrated consolation.

These days it is only too easy to become discouraged and believe our impact on society is insignificant. However, if Lynn’s success is any indication, even the smallest ripple has the potential to become a wave. After all, as individuals we may only be one drop, but together, we form an ocean.

 

I'm Not a Real Writer

Posted by Jessica Ingold on January 23, 2016 at 1:50 PM Comments comments (0)

There's a lot of writing advice floating around out there: read anything you can get your hands on, keep a daily journal, never leave home without a notebook. The Internet is bursting at the seams with how-to columns and motivational quotes, productivity hacks and educational blogs geared towards aspiring writers itching to launch their careers. If there was ever a time to embark on the (self) publishing journey, this is it. Thanks to a noticeable uptick in web-based self publishing services, everyone and their neighbour now has the capacity to share their stories with the world, thereby infusing the market with a deluge of fresh, new voices. Make no mistake: the era of creative autonomy is here to stay. And it is glorious.

Being a writer means the world to me. It is the lifeblood of my identity and the cornerstone of my career. The pen is mightier than the sword and words have saved me more times than I care to admit. There has never been a time in my life when the sight of someone grinning at something I've written has not caused my soul to sing. And now, at 24, I know without a glimmer of a doubt that I will always be in love with my craft. Certainty is a beautiful thing, isn't it?

I'm a writer. But according to conventional wisdom, I'm not a real writer.

Real writers, I'm told, write every day. They hole up in the privacy of their office, alone, and churn out page after page of blistering prose. They ponder the validity of their art continuously, chiseling away at society's preconceived notions one keystroke at a time until their name rises like cream to the top of every search engine and bestseller list. Real writers, apparently, do not have any other obligations.

Here's another thing: real writers, they say, are seldom self-taught, and the successful ones are merely flukes. Real writers go to school and enroll in creative writing programs. They receive grants to cover their expenses while they toil over their literary masterpieces. Real writers have agents, go on tour, and attend book signings. Real writers get real press coverage from real industry publications. Real writers get paid to write. Everything else, I'm told, is just noise. Make believe. Wishful thinking. A soapbox for the misunderstood. A hobby.

If everything I just said is true, then clearly I'm not a real writer at all.

I've tried it all: the daily drudgery of keeping a journal, pouring my insecurities onto the page in exchange for a few fleeting pearls of inspiration; the halfhearted hunt for the latest and greatest writing apps; the frenzied search for writing fairs and conferences that don't require representation by a recognized publishing house. I have tried, with no small amount of apoplexy, to establish a regular writing routine and concrete word count goals, only to end up slumped in my chair staring at the screen wondering why I torture myself in this way. After all, I'm not a real writer. All my deadlines are arbitrary and self-imposed. No one is waiting for my manuscript with money in hand--in fact, I'm lucky if I break-even on my investments. You can't put a price tag on passion, but that doesn't make it worthless.

Let's get real: being a writer is a terrifying prospect. Unlike other careers, it doesn't follow a predictable, linear trajectory. Either you strike gold--the right words on the right desk at the right time--or you end up facedown in the mud. There are no guarantees. I have always known this, and yet, here I am again, typing furiously in hopes that my words will somehow catapult me from the trenches of obscurity into something deserving of being called real--even if it's just for a minute.

I'm not a real writer, but I sure as hell feel like one when I type THE END at the bottom of an 85,000-word document. I'm not a real writer, but you'd never know it from the size of my smile every time someone likes, shares, or retweets one of my trite revelations. I'm not a real writer, but you'd never guess if you saw how many notes I've squirrelled away in shoeboxes and drawers, certain that these handwritten musings, hastily scribbled on whatever was handy at the time, will one day find their way into a story, poem, or blog post. I'm not a real writer, because I'm too busy enjoying the journey, rather than the destination.

I'm not a real writer, so for now, I'm going to cut myself some slack, pour myself another cup of coffee, and relish the freedom of an empty agenda--because when nothing is real, anything is possible.

 


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