I Wasn’t Always Like This

By (author): Shelley A. Leedahl

Some people claim they would like to walk away from their lives. Shelley A. Leedahl had the nerve to do it. Was it an act of selfishness, or self-preservation?

Provocative, candid, and engaging, these intimate essays explore the implicit complexities and contradictions when personal and professional lives both complement and clash. How can she be a good mother when her literary calling requires her to be away — sometimes countries away — from her school-aged children? How does she reconcile the fact she is often more comfortable with
strangers in foreign countries than with her own kith and kin? Yet personal experiences — including travels near and far, parental dilemmas, relationship breakdowns, new love, emotional chaos, and the care taken in creating gardens – also inspire the work.


Shelley A. Leedahl

Multi-genre writer Shelley A. Leedahl assuredly shifts her creative focus between critically acclaimed books of poetry, short fiction, novels, and children’s literature. With I Wasn’t Always Like This, the seasoned writer and popular presenter adds creative non-fiction to her literary repertoire. Her numerous titles include Wretched Beast; Listen, Honey; Orchestra of the Lost Steps; The Bone Talker (with illustrator Bill Slavin);The House of the Easily Amused; and A Few Words For January. Leedahl’s work has appeared in anthologies ranging fromThe Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2013 to Great Canadian Murder and Mystery Stories;Slice Me Some Truth: An Anthology of Canadian Creative Nonfiction; Country Roads: Memoirs from Rural Canada; and Outside of Ordinary: Women’s Travel Stories. Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Leedahl has also lived in Calgary, Medicine Hat, Sechelt, and Edmonton. She now makes her home in Ladysmith, BC. In addition to literary writing, she works as a freelance writer, editor, and writing instructor.


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My high school boyfriend remains a dear friend. Rob and I started dating when I was fourteen and parted ways during my eighteenth year, some time after I’d left Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan to study journalism arts at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary. I saw Rob not long ago, and he revealed that what has stuck with him over the years is that I always run from A to B. Yes. I run. I am now fifty-one years old, and I enjoyed an hour-long run this very morning through the sunny streets of Ladysmith and in the shade provided beneath Douglas fir, western red cedar and other giants on the Holland Creek Trail.  Two weeks ago I surprised a large black bear on the path. Two months ago I tripped on a root and my knees were sewn up to the tune of fourteen stitches. I was running again the next morning. The day I can’t bolt will be a sorry day indeed. • I began dedicated running on January 1, 1993. I had quit smoking the night before. I had been an off-and-on smoker since I was fifteen, and can remember when a pack cost fifty cents. When I got pregnant, I was definitely off. Young children: off. When I started working as a radio advertising copywriter for two rock and roll stations in Saskatoon, I was definitely on. Mostly I smoked because it gave me an excuse to pause. Mostly I smoked because I loved to pretend I was a 1940s movie actress. A sophisticate. It was more than a little about the aesthetic of holding that Number 7 Extra Light King Size. Of brandishing it. It was a kind of drama. When I stamped out my final cigarette and committed to getting fit, I went all in. I rather quickly increased my distance (from one block to ten kilometres), and my extra weight dripped off. I lost twenty-five pounds so rapidly, it damaged my gall bladder and I had to have it removed.  I have been so serious about running, I went under the knife for a reduction mammoplasty. A breast reduction. Running an average of fifty kilometres a week with D cups had quite literally been a bloody chore: the straps of my running bras quarried into my collarbones. I was grooved and scarred. I saw a plastic surgeon, explained that I was a runner and showed him a photo of myself in an orange bikini, taken in the privacy of my garden. You really do run a lot, he said. I removed my shirt. He confirmed that I was an excellent candidate for surgery. He whipped out a measuring tape and marked two dots on my clavicles. He measured again, lower: This is where your nipples will be. Oh, my. He explained how he would fold the skin. It’s a matter of darts, he said. Like sewing, I said. Yes, just like that. I asked if this would be like getting a haircut. Can I bring in a photo of what I’d like? No, he said, it’s not like that. The surgery was a success?—?though I think he could have gone two cup sizes smaller. Why all this running? I offer only theories. It beats down the demons, for one thing. Childhood trauma, melancholy, depression, loneliness, guilt. When you’re struggling for breath, it’s hard to dwell on your anguished spirit. Running’s also the antithesis of sitting at a desk. It’s hard work, and I believe in hard work, of all sorts. Protestant work ethic, perhaps. Or I could blame my Grade One teacher who taught her charges this little ditty: Work before play, work before play?…?that is the way to stay happy all day. My parents are diabetic, and I’m determined not to go there. Running keeps me healthy and in reasonably good shape. It’s proven a super way to explore new territory. My sport of choice is a go-anytime/anywhere activity, and all I really need for it are an hour a day and decent shoes. • In Saskatoon, I lived near the riverside Meewasin Valley Trail. In my home city I rarely missed a day of running between January 1993 and August 2007. I used to track the changes in the river, in the leaves. I ran with music, or without. With a dog, or without. I ran north, or south. Out-and-backs, or loops. I was intimately familiar with bridges and wind gusts. My son, cycling along beside me when he was thirteen, said: Mom, for the amount you run, there should be nothing left of you. My frosty face appeared on the front page of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix on December 22nd, 1998, when the temperature was in the mid to low -20° Celsius range. At times I was thin as a stick. Then: life as I knew it changed. I initiated a separation, moved to a village, and endured an excruciatingly lonely existence that I felt must be my penance for abandoning my family. I always say it like that. Not I left my husband, but I left my family. My friends. My home, and the garden with heritage peonies and ferns, a bounty of pink and purple lupins, a trilling waterfall, a lacy green vine embracing the six-foot privacy walls. Oh, haven. Oh, flagstone path to the red garden shed, where I painted S.L and T.L. inside a heart and doomed it with that most doom-able of words: Forever. Oh, Muskoka chairs beneath the French lilac: I still miss you.

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224 Pages
8in * 5.25in * .75in


October 01, 2014


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