Welcome to my Second Acts Series!
Today, we have Guelph author Wendy Stross sharing her inspiring reinvention story and first novel, A Love to Behold.
When contemplating this blog and what to share, I realize that throughout my life I have had various endeavours, various acts, and consider myself to be very much a student of life. With that said, at the age of nineteen, I became a registered nurse working in a downtown Toronto hospital. I worked on a surgical unit, part of which was directed to the treatment and care of patients with lung cancer. Once, when working a night shift, a couple of nurses and I were talking about what we would do if, at some time, we stopped nursing. “A writer,” I replied without thinking. My answer took me by surprise. I thought, “Now where did that come from?” I could never have imagined that one day I would hold a Ph.D. in History from the University of Toronto, and later still, write and publish a novel, A Love to Behold. So, how did I get from nurse to writer?
Years later when my husband and I had moved to Guelph and my children were in school, I registered as a full-time student at the local university. At the time, I had absolutely no interest in taking history. Truthfully, when in high school, if someone had told me one day I would become an historian, I would have told them they were crazy. History then was about kings, people with money, and those who held political, legal and/or religious power. There were few, if any, women, children – no ordinary individuals such as myself. As such, the subject held little interest for me. But, timing is everything. Two decades later when I returned to university, history as a discipline of study was undergoing significant changes. It was about social and cultural history, directed to including those individuals who had previously been ignored, silenced, excluded from the historical narrative. I thought, “Okay, this interests me.”
This new history demanded a great imagination. One had to examine old sources in new ways, to imagine new possibilities of discovering and learning about those individuals who had been ghosted from the past. In looking at old sources in new ways, historians were coming to new understandings about the past. I found this new direction exciting. I don’t think it was an accident that at the same time I was doing my Ph.D., my interest in spirituality was sparked, first through reading, then being a member of a goddess circle, and attending various spiritual workshops. Again, it was about expanding my worldview, using my imagination.
What triggered the need for change?
After earning my doctorate, for the next few years, I did some contract work and volunteering at the local city museum. Initially, I loved the experience of working in my community, discovering its past through material culture. But over time, I had this feeling that I didn’t belong there anymore. At the same time, both my parents were ill and I felt drained, physically, emotionally, and mentally. And even though I had no idea what I was going to do next, I decided to leave.
Where am I now?
So, why turn to fiction? In nursing, in the study of history and in working at the museum, I came upon a world of stories, past and present, stories we tell ourselves, stories that shape who we are. I became interested in the possibilities of these stories – possibilities not just seen, but the unseen, the undocumented, the unexplored possibilities imagined, but perhaps not written about.
When doing a doctorate in history, it was necessary to write something original, something new yet to be addressed. And so, when turning to fiction, I wanted to write something unique, a different kind of love story. A couple of years earlier I had heard a woman on the radio talk about the love and relationship she had shared with her twin flame. She described their love as deeply respectful and unconditional, one that consistently honoured the other’s choices and situations. I began to wonder what that kind of relationship would look like. How would it manifest in an ordinary life? And what would that look like if one twin flame was still alive, but one was dead and across the veil? A Love to Behold is the product of my wondering, my imagining.
It was only as I was preparing for the virtual book launch of A Love to Behold, that I came to fully appreciate all that I have accomplished. For a long time, I questioned what I was doing in terms of my career. To be a writer was something I never could have imagined for myself. And the fact that I have written and published my first novel is amazing to me.
Do you have any advice for anyone planning to pursue a second act?
The best advice I ever received was from my husband. My first written assignment as a university student was a philosophy paper on Plato’s Republic. Prior to this, the extent of my writing had been the weekly grocery list. The Saturday before the essay was due, I went up to my study. Hours passed, and finally my husband came upstairs and dared to ask me how it was going.
I burst out crying. “I can’t do this! It’s too hard!” In all that time, I had not been able to put a single word down on paper.
Once my husband had recovered from his shock, he said, “Wendy, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just write down your thoughts, and slowly it will come to you. You can always go back and edit it.”
While he was talking about writing, I think it is true for life in general. Beginning anything new is scary, and it is hard. Looking back on my journey from nurse, to historian, and now novelist, I have come to appreciate how much courage it took to keep going. I remember handing in a draft of my first chapter of my doctoral thesis to my supervisor who then returned it with comments. I asked him if I should edit it. He answered, “No. Keep going. It is only when you reach the end that you will finally know what your book is about.” Wise words, I still hold dear.
Affirmation to Share
Love yourself and be kind to yourself. Trust that little voice within, even if at times, it seems to make no sense. It is leading you somewhere, someplace that you can’t even imagine – yet.
This is the story of Anne and Archie. Boy meets Girl. Boy loses Girl. Boy finally gets Girl. Sounds ordinary? Well yes, until you realize Boy meets Girl, and they are together for three months. Boy loses Girl for forty-three years, and does not get Girl until after his death when he returns to tell her she was the love of his life. It is an amazing love story, full of promise, hardship, and the growing awareness of the immense and unconditional love shared by these twin flames.
As she turned the key in the ignition, Anne decided to stop at “the Gathering” – an annual event sponsored by a local store that specialized in spirituality. It was around 10:30 and the church auditorium was humming with activity. Tables of the various vendors, healers, and mediums were scattered throughout the room.
Jennifer, a friend, called to her, “Hey kid, what are you doing here?”
“Probably procrastinating! I’ve never been to this event and was curious.” Jennifer was an energy practitioner who did Reiki and Reflexology, and Anne asked if she had a table here.
Jennifer said no, that this kind of event was not conducive to the healing work she did – too busy and noisy. “Actually, I’m just leaving. My daughter has dance in an hour. See you at Friday yoga?”
Anne nodded, waved bye and started to wander. Everything from aromatherapy, crystals, jewelry, Christmas decorations and baking, as well as various healers offering their services were to be found in this one room. She was thinking she should go when from the corner of her eye, she spotted a woman seated at a table; her sign read “Susan Barker, Psychic Medium – Readings – $60 for 30 minutes.” Anne had had readings from psychics before, some good, some not so good. She was not familiar with this one. Anne circled the room once more, but found herself drawn back to psychic Sue. Ms. Barker looked to be around fifty, heavy-set, and reminded Anne of a beloved great-aunt. She was free at the moment, so Anne paid her money and sat down for a reading.
For the first fifteen minutes or so, the medium was pretty on track. Anne’s grandmother had come through, saying Anne had come by her love of books from her.
“Was there something at the end whereby she couldn’t talk?”
“Yes, she had a stroke that affected her throat. She could neither swallow nor speak at the end.”
The psychic said that her grandmother regretted she was unable to say some of the things she had wanted to say. That she was very proud of Anne and of all she had accomplished while being a wife and mother. Moments later, Sue looked above Anne’s head, her eyes widening in surprise.
“Your soulmate’s here, standing behind you!”
Stunned, Anne leaned forward to ensure she had heard correctly. “I’m sorry. What?” And then, shaking her head, she said, “You must be mistaken. I’ve been married over forty years and to my knowledge, my husband is very much alive.”
Throughout her life, Wendy has had various endeavours and considers herself to be very much a student of life. As well as being a wife, mother, and grandmother, she has been a registered nurse, has a Ph.D. in History from the University of Toronto, and has earned a Certificate in Museum Studies from the Ontario Museum Association.
The common thread underlying all her pursuits is Wendy’s lifelong passion for all things spiritual and unknown. At one point in her life, Wendy was a member of a goddess circle. The goddess experience, being part of a circle of women, opened Wendy up to the possibilities of magic in the world, to the possibilities within herself.
Over the last few years, she has attended various spiritual workshops which further fueled her interest in subjects such as soul contracts, soul ages, reincarnation, and meditation, prayer, dreams – all means by which one is able to connect with the wisdom of Spirit, God, one’s High Self, spirit guides and angels. And Wendy was astounded to learn that she could converse with and access the wisdom of her soul, her High Self, God, her spirit guides and angels through various means. The understanding that one could communicate with those spirits across the veil, that across the veil relationships were real and are possible served as inspiration for A Love to Behold, her first novel.
So, why turn to fiction? In the study of cultural and social history, in efforts to gain a more inclusive understanding and vision of the past, Wendy came upon a world of stories, past and present, stories we tell ourselves, the stories that shape who we are. And she became interested in the possibilities of these stories – possibilities not just seen, but the unseen, the undocumented, the unexplored possibilities imagined but perhaps not written about.
Wendy has long desired to write a novel, a love story, about the immense and unconditional love shared by twin flames. What would that kind of love and relationship look like? How would it manifest in an ordinary life? And what would that look like if one twin flame was still alive, but one was dead and across the veil? A Love to Behold is the product of Wendy’s wondering – her imagining.
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The recording of the virtual book launch of A Love To Behold on March 7th is now on YouTube. Here’s the link.