Archive for Together

Mid-Life, Together

Reinvention Is Just as Much About Loss as it Is About Gain

From The Huffington Post: January 8, 2015

Kate Hilton, The Huffington Post, Best Selling Author, The Hole in the Middle, Book Club, Book ClubsThis morning I woke up and discovered that my inbox was full of congratulations on my LinkedIn work anniversary.

Exactly one year ago, I apparently made a point of changing my LinkedIn profile and declared to the world that I was a writer (and a consultant, because you never know).

And what a year it turned out to be.

My novel, The Hole in the Middle, spent 11 weeks on the bestseller list in Canada. I made dozens of personal appearances at book clubs, libraries, bookstores, women’s organizations and writers’ festivals, on radio and — astonishingly — on television. I signed a two-book deal with a U.S. publisher. I travelled across the country, met wonderful friends, and discovered in myself an unexpected talent for reinvention.

These successes coincided with my most excruciating failure, as my marriage of 14 years ended. I parented my children through the dark days of separation, uncertainty and grief. My dog died. I lost friendships that I had cherished, and gained an unsettling perspective on the essential impermanence of a life built with care and effort. I learned how to ask for help, and how to receive it with grace. I held tight to my parents, my sisters and my sons, and was grateful for them.

“You’ve changed,” people said to me over the course of the year. “You’re different.” Sometimes it was said with admiration, and sometimes not. It made me uncomfortable, either way. A friend said, “You should thank them. You’ve worked hard at change. It’s what you wanted.” And she’s right.

But reinvention is about loss as well as gain. It involves the shedding of an old life, a life that may not fit any longer, but a life that was known to you. It involves the creation of a ‘you’ that didn’t exist before. And, as with all new ventures, it involves failure.

It is fashionable these days to deny the existence of failure, to suggest that failure is merely a mechanism that pushes you toward your destiny. I like this idea. I find it attractive and comforting. I also think it is absolute nonsense, a rationalization of the most fantastical variety. Failure is the ugly twin of success, and success cannot exist without it.

Failure is a necessary ingredient in reinvention. That is why reinvention is hard and lonely and frightening. But reinvention is also exhilarating, and rewarding, and worth the cost it exacts from those brave enough to embrace it.

And so I gratefully accept all congratulations on my work anniversary. It is a milestone worth celebrating.


Thinking Pink

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Think pink, right?

Kate Hilton, The Hole in the Middle, Best Selling Author, The Scar Project, Book Club, Breast CancerI have to tell you, when I think of breast cancer, I don’t think pink.  To me, breast cancer is the black dark of my worst imaginings at 2:00 a.m.  It’s the moment you realize that breast cancer could take you away from the children who desperately need you.  It’s the yawning dread that visits you every time you hear about another friend of a friend who’s sick.  There’s nothing pink about that.

That’s why I love the SCAR project.  This spectacular photo exhibit is raw and real, and shows the harsh reality of breast cancer and the scars it leaves behind.  It is also hopeful, inspiring and extraordinarily beautiful:

I’m thrilled to help Rethink Breast Cancer bring the SCAR Project to Toronto this spring.  This week, I held a private screening of Baring It All, a documentary about the making of the SCAR project.  Twenty wonderful women gathered.  We laughed and wept.  We remembered fallen friends and made new ones.  We raised $5,000.  It was an amazing night.

Join me in supporting this incredible project.  Visit the SCAR Project website and learn more.   If the images move you, and I know they will, consider making a donation at  It feels way better than wearing a pink ribbon.


UPDATE: Recently, I was contacted by Sondria Brown, who told me about a wonderful grassroots project in St. John’s, Newfoundland that was inspired by the SCAR Project.  Here’s the CBC clip that shows some of the images.

The Writing Life, Together

How About We All Stop Dumping on Genre Fiction?

A young woman reading, RomeI read a lot.  This year, I’ll read at least 150 books, and I’ll enjoy most of them.  I’ll read literary fiction, certainly. I’m in a book club that reads novels by Booker prize winners and those shortlisted for the prize.  In addition, I’ll try to sample a good selection of critic’s choices from the New York Times and various other ‘best-of’ lists.

And I’ll read a ton of genre fiction.  Mostly, if you ask what I’m reading, I’ll tell you about the literary fiction.  I won’t tell you about the raft of paranormal romances, young adult, police procedurals and adult contemporary titles on my e-reader.  That’s because you’ll judge me.  Admit it.

As for you, you’ll admit to checking out Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, just to keep abreast of popular culture.  You’ll tell everyone who asks that the writing in them is terrible and you can’t understand why they took the publishing world by storm.  Secretly, though, you’ll stay up late devouring every page, just like the rest of us.

I get it.  I’m fairly impervious to the judgments of others on most things, but not on matters of literary taste.  But since I started writing myself, I’ve started to appreciate the unique talents of genre writers.  So let me make this argument in defense of genre fiction and the fine writers who produce it.  Literary fiction is designed to make us think.  Genre fiction is designed to make us feel.  There are excellent writers in both categories, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying both.

Let me make an analogy to food, which is the only art form, other than writing, where I can boast any personal talent.  At one of America’s great restaurants, I once ate a tiny cube of distilled cucumber gelatin that made me view the delicate flavor of the vegetable in an entirely new way.  It was an amazing culinary experience.  Great works of literary fiction do something similar.  They make us see our familiar world in a new and fascinating light.

But I don’t want to eat cucumber gelatin every day.  Sometimes, I’m in the mood for a gutsy lasagna or a roast chicken or a gooey chocolate chip cookie.  These foods are predictable but never disappointing.  They nourish and comfort without surprising us.  And this is what great genre fiction does.  We don’t have to worry that the boy will get the girl, or that the murderer will be apprehended or that the sex will be hot.  We know and that’s part of what we enjoy.

So go ahead.  Devour fiction in all its many forms.  I won’t judge you.


Together, Work-Life Balance, Working Motherhood

My (First) Midlife Crisis

Kate Hilton, The Hole in the Middle, Best Selling Author, Book Club, Book ClubsTowards the end of my thirties, I experienced a period of professional malaise.  By ‘professional malaise’ I mean that I was threatening to quit every few days.  Since most of my threats were issued at home, the only person who was actually affected by them was my husband, but I think it’s fair to say that I diminished his quality of life.

I have held many different jobs.  I’ve been a fiction editor, a secretary, an adjudicator, a litigation lawyer-in-training, a university administrator and a fundraiser.  I know how to gut it out.  I once won a national trial advocacy competition while in the grips of a serious public-speaking phobia.  (That’s how I figured out that I didn’t want to be a litigator.  But I digress.)

The hardest thing I’ve ever done professionally is to try to raise fifty million dollars for a capital campaign in the middle of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.  This is what I was doing when my midlife crisis hit.  Many have suggested that I am a bit young to refer to 40-ish as ‘midlife’.  I note that all of these people are baby boomers.

Raising a massive amount of money in a dire economy is like climbing up a sheer rock face with your fingernails.  (I imagine.  I have tried many things in my life, but not this.)  Every inch is agonizing, takes all of your effort and leaves you bleeding.  And then people come by and say things like, “Wow, you really aren’t making much progress, are you?  Maybe you aren’t very good at rock climbing.  Maybe you should hire a professional rock climber.  There’s probably a reason why professional rock climbers are men.  They’re stronger, right?  And better?  So you should think about hiring one of those rock climbers.  I’d love to help you, but I’m fully committed to supporting other, more successful rock climbers, or I would be if the economy weren’t so lousy.  So let me know when you get close to the top, and then we’ll talk.”

As I may have mentioned, I dabbled in feminist theory in the early nineties.  I am therefore well-equipped to identify subtle and unspoken forms of discrimination.  But these skills were not required.  No one was being remotely subtle.  They just came right out and said things like, “You need to be realistic.  You’re out of your depth here.   You’re too nice for this.  You need someone who can shake people down.  You should talk to [fill in name of powerful male with no professional fundraising experience].  He knows how to do this stuff.”

I am pretty nice.  If you met me, you would think so.  Most people do.  I have good social skills.  But these experiences didn’t make me feel nice.  They made me feel angry.  Feeling angry, in turn, made me feel uncomfortable.

I suspect this is because I’m a girl.  Despite all of my years of feminist theory, I consider anger to be an inappropriate emotion.  I’m more of a crier than a yeller.  I tend to turn negative feelings inward.  I rarely raise my voice unless I believe that people can’t hear me (literally, not metaphorically).  But now I was steaming.

My friend Bronwen is a couple of years older than I am.  We have been friends for more than twenty years and have seen each other through some major life events – marriage, divorce, crippling heartbreak, the loss of a parent, a near-fatal medical crisis and the births of our children.  We know where the scars are.

I took her out for a drink in a hotel bar, and I told her my troubles.  Was it me, I wanted to know?  Was I doing something wrong?

“No,” she said, “It’s not you.”  She leaned forward and looked me in the eye.  “They’re called the Fucking Forties for a reason, Kate.  Every woman I know is pissed off as hell.” We drained our drinks.  And then we ordered another round.

And then I went out and raised $50 million.

I don’t know if this story has a moral.  When I first posted this story, it was gently suggested to me that I take it down because it might embarrass people.  So I did, but it bothered me.  Because here’s the thing:  I think people should feel embarrassed when they tell women that they aren’t up to the job by virtue of being women.  It’s not OK.  And my not telling anyone about it suggests that I accept it.  I don’t.  And that’s why I’m posting this blog.

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