cygnoir.net

Good ideas for Christmas Day.

There are many things I would recommend that you do on Christmas Day:

  • Cook shredded Brussels sprouts with pine nuts and bacon and serious amounts of butter.
  • Bake sweet potato pie. No butter in that one!
  • Show up with aforementioned sprouts and pie to your friends' home, where they are assembling a magnificent holiday feast, complete with gluten-free stuffing and Yorkshire puddings and gravy and trifle.
  • Eat yourself silly.
  • FaceTime with your faraway sweetie.
  • Watch "Thor" and "Captain America" and "Iron Man 2" and "Avengers Assemble". All of them! Happy Marvel-mas, indeed.
  • Curl up in bed with two happy, snoring cats and just before falling asleep watch the mini-episode prequel to the new season of "Sherlock".

I hope your day was wonderful, however you celebrate.

Bad ideas for Christmas Eve.

There are many things I would not recommend that you do on Christmas Eve. Almost all of them revolve around shopping. And yet there I was, in the middle of a good-sized grocery store called Waitrose, cradling an amaretto-flavoured soy latte in one hand and a wire basket in the other, when I was introduced to the full-on HPM (Holiday Politeness Morass).

In case it isn’t clear by now, I deeply appreciate living in a polite culture. After decades of the American “everyone’s your friend, the kind of friend you have no compunction about treating like total garbage if it means you are first in line” faux-niceness, I find the whole British orderliness not only refreshing but salutary to my sanity. After returning to the working world, I realised just how crucial this is, and how miserable I was when dealing with the American public every day.

Here is where I will pause to say that I know that a good amount of my readers are part of the American public and might take this personally. I would urge you not to, of course, and instead attempt to espouse a trait of my sociologist father’s that I have always admired: the ability to consider both the cultural veracity of a stereotype and the personal relevance without taking either as an affront. I’m American, and because I live outside America, I am confronted with my Americanness every day. Some of it is good, and some of it is not so good. I try to take zero of either side as a personal value judgement.

Anyway, back to my story. I got off the bus too early (a common mistake I make on new routes, as if getting off one stop too late is somehow worse) and walked through a very nice neighbourhood, peeking at the brightly-lit Christmas trees through front windows. I was feeling only a little sorry for myself, but mostly looking forward to an evening of cooking and watching holiday films. Thus distracted, I entered Waitrose with no sense of trepidation at all. In fact, I was glad to be there: they have nice food and it was blustery crap outside.

This was my first mistake.

Then I noticed the HPM.

It first manifested as a cluster of trolleys and wire baskets clutched by niceties-muttering poor planners like myself, so I was not afraid. Then I noticed the Waitrose worker in the middle of all of this, wielding a price gun above a pile of packets, the contents of which I still have not fathomed. Whatever was in them was more valuable than gold to the HPM as it seethed and swarmed – really gently, and congenially – at the centre.

I decided to go around this, to go somewhere else. Anywhere else.

But this was happening all throughout the store. Apparently prices were being marked down as closing time approached and, as the saying goes, supplies wouldn’t last.

Earlier, I had the bright idea of making meatloaf for dinner, an idea that was quickly revealed as the worst idea on the planet, ever, as I dared to enter the meat aisle for one minute. The HPM there was too strong. I saw two shoppers get stuck in a cycle of darting forward to grab a packet of beef mince but averting as the other was darting forward for not the same packet but one merely nearby. Fierce apologising began, and then the furtive darting forward again, only to bump hands this time, which set off another flurry of apologies.

You know how this would go down in America. Grab the meat, maybe even the sleeve of someone’s coat in the process, and get the hell out of there. You might open your bags at home to discovered you had inadvertently taken someone’s mitten or small child. Ha ha, you’d laugh. What a crazy shopping trip! And then you’d give the small child some potatoes to peel and start cooking.

So stunned, I scuppered the meatloaf idea and went for a dairy-free, wheat-free, gluten-free cottage pie ready-meal. You can bet there was no HPM hanging about that area.

I also might have grabbed a few other things, like crab paté, that I didn’t really need but wanted. At the till, I chatted with the cashier – another Americanism, but it’s a tough habit to break. As we struggled to fit all of the purchases in my bag, I gave a little sigh and said, “I guess I’m eating my feelings this Christmas.” This earned me the first outright laugh I have ever received from a cashier, which I counted as an early Christmas present.

My second early Christmas present was discovering a completely awesome shortcut from the “faraway” bus stop to our flat. Some cottage pie and crab paté later, plus FaceTime with family, and I’m feeling all right. I hope you are feeling all right too.

Writing from: the lounge, next to the tree. Listening to: “Ghostbusters” on the TV. So much better than any holiday film I had planned.

The sock monkey wishes you a Merry Christmas Eve-Eve.

2013-12-23 21.09.36-2

As my plan to get a tree fell through yesterday, I decided to wake up early and get one this morning. I have no method of conveyance so this was destined to be a small tree, but that’s okay. A tree is a tree, and although I had been avoiding it – as if getting a Christmas tree by myself was the symbol of admitting that FunkyPlaid won’t be here on Christmas – I went out in the freezing slush and got myself a tree. I even have ornaments, but no ornament hangers, a fact I realised too late to rectify because our local hardware store has inscrutable business hours. So I won’t unveil the whole thing until tomorrow when the ornaments are on it, but here is a glimpse of the sock monkey who lives in the tree. Is that a Scottish thing? I don’t know, but she won’t leave.

Writing from: the pine-scented lounge. Listening to: the dings of iMessage.

Magic windows.

Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Cam.

I’ve never been to Vegas, and I’m not sure if this photo of the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens done up for Christmas makes me want to go or want to stay very far away. But I love that I can look in on it, live, and feel wildly ambivalent half a world away.

It’s been a while since my webcam was in regular operation, but I still peek in on webcams around the world, especially when I am feeling homesick. Here are some of my haunts.

[caption id=“attachment_10635” align=“aligncenter” width=“460”]Chicago skyline at dawn. Chicago skyline at dawn.[/caption]

[caption id=“attachment_10637” align=“aligncenter” width=“460”]Live cam on my old undergrad campus. Live cam on my old undergrad campus.[/caption]

[caption id=“attachment_10639” align=“aligncenter” width=“460”]Fog and the Golden Gate Bridge. Fog and the Golden Gate Bridge.[/caption]

[caption id=“attachment_10641” align=“aligncenter” width=“460”]Portmeirion Village. Because, well, it's The Village. Portmeirion Village. Because, well, it’s The Village.[/caption]

Did you know you can watch Andy Warhol’s gravesite live 24/7? Or dolphins frolicking in a Japanese aquarium? How about Icelandic glaciers or Transylvanian festivals? I found these and a lot more on EarthCam’s list of the 25 most interesting webcams of 2013.

This didn’t make the list, but I’ve been amusing myself by controlling Alek’s Christmas lights for Celiac Disease. (Really. I couldn’t make that up.)

Writing from: bed. Listening to: Macklemore, on Sharks’ recommendation, and really liking it.

Pop music.

www.youtube.com/watch

Warning: this video is not safe for … anything, really. I don’t know. It makes me laugh so hard I can’t breathe.

So yesterday I listened to the entire actual song of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” and blood did not seep out of my eyes. It’s not a horrible song, just a mediocre pop-ballad thing. I think the video is idiotic, but when parodies like this exist, I can’t complain too loudly.

Sharks recently mentioned Pop Danthology 2013, and while I am glad I watched it, I’ve never been so glad to see Justin Timberlake in all my life. His latest album isn’t doing much for me, but I’d rather listen to JT than the rest of the current pop stars.

www.youtube.com/watch

Except for Lorde. If you want a fantastic pop record of 2013, Lorde’s “Pure Heroine” is it.

www.youtube.com/watch

Writing from: bed. Listening to: both cats snoring, and they’re just out of sync. How do I sync them up? Please send me your tips.

The miracle of sweatpants.

My red fleece sweatpants are evil. Wearing them is basically the antidote to any productivity I might muster. As soon as I changed from sweatpants to proper grownup clothing today, I got a ton of stuff done. But listening to Patton Oswalt talking about the miracle of sweatpants made me laugh a lot.

Today I am having a day of expat feelings, so I am going to talk about something I love about living in Scotland and something that annoys me.

I love hearing SSE (Scottish Standard English) every day. In fact, I have done tireless (read: not tireless) research to bring to you the absolute best (read: or just really good) sentence to hear in SSE: “Will you tell the girls about the murder rate of squirrels in third-world countries?” I also love hearing the following words: dreich, guddle, drouthy, numpty, outwith. I hope I didn’t offend anyone by writing this. At least I didn’t say …

Haggis. I am vastly annoyed by the punchline to jokes from non-Scots being, “Haggis!” And I love haggis, so it’s not like I object on culinary grounds. It’s just such a lazy joke, like responding to anything Italian by saying, “Spaghetti with meatballs!”

Hm, now I’m hungry.

[caption id=“” align=“alignnone” width=“500”]Haggis, neeps & tatties @ The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (Leith) Haggis, neeps, and tatties. Delicious.[/caption]

Writing from: bed, one electric blanket, two kitties. Listening to: Patton Oswalt.

Black swans surfing.

www.youtube.com/watch

Sometimes we don’t struggle against the current. Sometimes we just go with the flow.

Writing from: bed, with the electric blanket on, both kitties in attendance. Listening to: the wind, which sounds like ocean surf.

HIDWTS: Scottish Chivalry.

This holiday version of How I Decide Where to Sit was prompted by my brand new commute! Actually, a few different commutes, because I work at different campuses sometimes, and none of them are particularly near each other, bus-route-wise.

www.flickr.com/photos/in…

Deciding where to sit has been a snap, really. The buses I take are rarely crowded, and unless it is a single-decker bus, my usual spot is the front seat on the top right. It used to be the front seat on the top left, but then I was on a bus that drove past some untrimmed trees just as I was dozing off.

So yes, dozing off: I am up to my old falling-asleep-on-public-transport tricks. It’s a side-effect of the lame insomnia I’ve been battling recently. So far, I have managed to pop awake just before I need to hop off the bus, so basically I am using up all of my luck and tomorrow a grand piano is going to fall on my head.

Today I was walking to the bus stop on my way to a holiday luncheon for work (for those of you keeping track, this is the second of three parties I have been invited to, an unexpected yet pleasant result of working with four different teams) and I decided to take a shortcut across the edge of a park. As soon as I stepped off the sidewalk, I knew I was in trouble. The heels of my boots slid and then squelched in the muddy grass as I wobbled my way across, only to find a small iron railing I would have to step over on the other side. On a drier day, this wouldn’t have been daunting at all. I was mumbling something about how this wasn’t such a great idea when I looked up to see a young man in front of me reaching his hand out to steady me as I stepped over the railing. I thanked him for his trouble and got a diffident “nae bother” in response. And then, in keeping with the spirit of the moment, we genially avoided making conversation or even eye contact as we waited for the bus.

I used to ride a shuttle to work. It was a really nice shuttle and the first time I had ever had that luxury, causing me to overthink pretty much every aspect of it, especially where to sit. And now I overthink where I decide to sit in every open-seating situation, so I’m writing about it in a series called How I Decide Where to Sit.

A year in first lines.

This meme again? Well, sure. I’ve hit that middle portion of Holidailies where I have ideas but no energy to execute them. So here’s my 2013 in my first lines, minus book reviews and link reblogs.

January My second 5K race is tomorrow.

February The noise of traffic just outside our window was so much louder than usual, a steady, slick pulse over the rasp of the rain.

March Week two of the flu has been in turns frustrating and depressing.

April The second phase of adjustment to expat life has been harder.

May Normally I try to keep the rants to a minimum here, although arguably this is the one place on the Internet I can guiltlessly rant until my fingers run out of steam.

June Hello. I am still here. June is the kind of busy that makes my eyebrows hurt, but 90% of it is wonderful busy, like spending time with my mom.

July The summer has been so hectic that I forgot to fundraise (or even mention, really) this Sunday’s 10K race.

August Writers’ Bloc returns to the Edinburgh International Book Festival for a special event with John Lemke and Poppy Ackroyd.

September Fringe shows attended: 8.

October (Nothing, so you get a link that fascinated me today.)

November Um, yikes. And hello. September and October sped by because we moved house and I got a job.

December Now I’ve fooled around with MarsEdit for so long I don’t have much time to write before midnight.

Writing from: the uninspired lounge. Listening to: “7” by Prince.

Norway Is Digitizing All Its Books

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/11/norway-digitizing-all-books-national-library_n_4427164.html

From the article: “In a plan to scan all of its publications to the cloud, the National Library of Norway is digitalizing its books, and it and plans to make them all freely available to users with a Norwegian IP address. The library plans to have the project completed in about 15 to 20 years.”

Norway Is Digitizing All Its Books

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/11/norway-digitizing-all-books-national-library_n_4427164.html

From the article: “In a plan to scan all of its publications to the cloud, the National Library of Norway is digitalizing its books, and it and plans to make them all freely available to users with a Norwegian IP address. The library plans to have the project completed in about 15 to 20 years.”

Bad weather friend.

When I go to bed each night, the cats join me. Torgi is a snuggle addict, but I have no illusions about Zen’s reasoning: she knows I throw off heat like crazy, and she is a Southern belle who requires a much higher ambient temperature than Scotland can usually manage. Torgi defers to Zen’s preference to sleep on my hip, and so he usually exiles himself to the end of the bed.

Lately, he’s been getting very brave, and Zen accommodates. He moves up to the pillow and curls himself next to my head, and Zen doesn’t cross the DMZ of my upper torso.

Something changed in the middle of the night, though, and I woke up this morning to a landmark moment: Zen and Torgi, sleeping next to one another. Touching. And not hissing or hitting each other.

They even stayed that way long enough for me to snap a photo. Are our old only-children finally becoming siblings?

2013 12 14 07 09 46

Nah. Zen bit Torgi’s tail a second later, and he made a Walter Matthau grumble and took off. But I can dream …

In completely unrelated news, a few of my work colleagues have now confirmed that I have plans for the holiday break even though FunkyPlaid is out of town.

I … talk about the cats a lot.

Writing from: the lounge, now smelling like cinnamon-scented pinecones. Post title from: “My Evil Twin” by TMBG. Listening to: on Rdio’s suggestion, Leona Lewis’ holiday album. Why is she singing all the notes? She should save some notes for the other songs. So many notes, Leona.

Holiday spirit, express delivery.

Lest you think that I’ve succumbed to mopey gothmas this December, I should mention some bright spots. One is a a very special advent calendar that my mom devised with special challenges for each day. She always thinks of the cleverest ways to mark the passage of the holiday season, and I’m really enjoying this one.

Also, FunkyPlaid has been long-distance nudging me to get a tree. When I got home from my team’s holiday dinner tonight, a box was propped up against the door. It was full of holiday decorations sent from my dad and stepmom. So now I really have no excuse.

2013 12 14 22 01 29 2

Now I will take my sleep-deprived self to bed, and dream of sugarplums. No, ew, gross. Nutella-plums.

Writing from: the day-bed in the window overlooking the garden. Chilly but my favourite place in the whole flat. Listening to: Zen’s chainsaw snores.

Lightbulbs are loud.

Lightbulbs are really loud. I am not making this up. Although I could be making this up, and since I am just a person on the Internet, you would never know.

But lightbulbs are loud and I can hear them all and each one has a specific sound and none of them are in tune with anything or with each other. Other things that are loud:

The cable box. Or whatever it is now called. The cable/DVR thing. It constantly makes a low, wet tapping sound.

Torgi’s wee belly, disturbingly. Earlier tonight he made a “whoa hey, I’m a-gonna hork” noise and I ran into the bedroom and it turned into a cough that turned into hiccoughs and then burps. It startled us both. And then his tummy started churning. So we’ve hit the tummy-upset phase of the meds. He did what I do when I feel like I’m going to hork but I don’t want to: resolutely swallowed a bunch of times. Over and over. And it passed. I held his little back paws in my hands and told him the story of how I had too much to drink at FunkyPlaid’s going-away party in 2003 and the next morning I barfed in his bathroom. By the time I was done telling the story, Torgi’s belly had settled.

Every lightbulb in this flat. What is going on here? Am I losing my mind? They are keening softly, shy birds in metal nests. Are they waiting for me to close my eyes? Sometimes when I blink I can hear that too, a thick sluck as my lids meet and pull apart.

A ladder against a stone building, voices, a flap and slosh of not-clean water against a window. The tense squelch of rungs giving way under weight, then resisting.

Bass-drum thrum of the heat as I turn the place into the world’s largest laundry dryer because I really need clean clothes for work tomorrow that are also not damp.

The sensuous unzip of avocado skin. Not quite ripe but I’ll eat it anyway with anaemic plum tomatoes and, well, nothing else. Standing over the sink. Like an animal. An animal with opposable thumbs who likes embryonic guacamole.

Zen’s face, on anything, as she does anything. Bathing, eating, drinking, gnawing on my wrist. Her raspy tongue and needle teeth. Someone has mic-ed her face and the speaker is in my earring.

Music turned down very low. This, even, is loud. I am constantly turning it up and down and wishing for a half-step between volume levels.

I made a mistake after I finished cataloguing these for you. My mistake was research. It led me to the Wikipedia entry on “The Hum” which disturbed me greatly. Of course it has its own website. Of course. This led me to one of the greatest paragraphs I have ever read:

I suspect that the Hum is a biological reaction to the multimode propagation and subsequent interference of VLF electromagnetic energy, compounded in some cases by existing sources of otherwise inaudible low frequency sound and infrasound. It is an activation of the auditory system detectable by a small proportion (less than 5 percent) of the population who are acutely sensitive to the presence of low frequency sounds or who have specific anatomical conditions. Increasing numbers of increasingly powerful VLF transmitters, via ground wave, skywave, and magnetic conjugate propagation modes, create ground interference and standing waves that create locations with intense levels of VLF energy. The odd behaviour of the Hum is caused by diurnal, seasonal, and geomagnetic disturbances affecting the ionosphere.

Majestic. That we live in such a world, with such words and such concepts.

And this is what it is like when I have insomnia.

Writing from: the loud lounge. Listening to: you already know.

Portrait of a lady.

Portrait of a Lady

I smile, of course, And go on drinking tea. "Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall My buried life, and Paris in the Spring, I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world To be wonderful and youthful, after all."

– from T.S. Eliot’s “Portrait of a Lady”

I am fairly sure that Eliot did not have a virtual avatar sipping virtual tea in mind when he wrote those lines, but what better to offer as an apology for my own silence than words from one of the greatest poets who ever lived?

It has been an introspective couple of days.

Writing from: a vanilla-scented lounge (thanks, Ikea candle). Listening to: “Trans Fatty Acid” by Lamb.

GTD with Evernote, Drafts, and Due.

After recently streamlining my GTD process, I am finally ready to write about it. It is my steadfast hope that my fretting and flailing might provide you with some insight as to how to improve your own GTD process. If it needs improvement, that is. Mine really did.

First of all, if you are not familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done, here is the prerequisite plug for that. There are about sixty (I am making that number up) different ways to organise your to-do list now. GTD isn’t necessarily the best, but it’s the one I’ve used for a decade and it makes sense to me. Here is a stern admonishment not to get bogged down by trying all of the different fancy tools that exist. They are shiny. They are useful. And they are also an excuse for you not to get things done. (Trust me, I know.)

Step 1: Collect.

I use Evernote. I’m not going to tell you how great Evernote is, because you probably already know, or you don’t like it at all, in which case you might not want to keep reading this. Anyway, Evernote has a great web clipper that allows me to quickly capture whatever it is I want to remember and shove it into Evernote.

www.youtube.com/watch

When I’m not on my laptop, I capture stuff like this with Drafts for iOS. Drafts is this ridiculously handy app for taking notes that just gives you a blank screen and gets out of your way. You can process whatever you capture after it is captured, but the important part is just getting it down. Since I’ve started using Drafts, I’ve stopped losing those bizarre story ideas that occur to me at inopportune moments (instead of when I am in front of the computer, waiting for them to occur to me, dammit) as well as book and film recommendations and other cool stuff I want to remember but never do.

[caption id=“attachment_10532” align=“aligncenter” width=“460”]drafts app Drafts is way more useful than I could write about in just one post. Check it out.[/caption]

And yes, Evernote for iOS has its own “quick entry” ability, but it has lots of fiddly bits that I, a compulsive bit-fiddler, get sucked into very easily. So once I’ve made a quick note in Drafts, I use the “Save to Evernote” action in Drafts. Boom. I go on with my day. (You can make more complex Evernote actions in Drafts if you like.)

Here is where I admit a very dark secret: I don’t dislike email. I know it’s in fashion to hate on email these days, but I really don’t. What I dislike is trying to get anything done with email. Brainstorming via email is utterly frustrating to me. There are three separate threads in my inbox right now that I can’t unravel enough to formulate responses. But I’ll get into that later. Basically, if I get an email about something I need to do or review, I forward it to Evernote with my special Evernote email address and then archive it.

Step 2: Process.

My default Evernote notebook is called “Inbox” because that’s where I put everything that has yet to be processed.

I look at each note in my Inbox and determine what it is. If it’s something I need to do that can be done in two minutes, I go ahead and do it.

If it can’t be done in two minutes, it gets filed into my “Next” notebook – all the things I need to do next, handily called “next actions”.

If it has to be done at a certain time, I put it into Due. You could use your calendar or anything that will beep at you. One of our cats gets medication at the same time every day, so this is a daily repeating reminder in Due. Due syncs with my iOS devices and my Mac. It does what it does extremely well – and gets out of my way. (Here’s the crazy part: I could actually create reminders in Due directly from Drafts. I haven’t been because I just realised that. But I probably will now. Wow.)

[caption id=“attachment_10527” align=“aligncenter” width=“460”]due app Due has auto-snooze, different alarm sounds, support for repeating tasks, and much more.[/caption]

But this is where it gets funky. Say I hear about a writing contest I want to enter on the 23rd. In Drafts, I’ve jotted that down and sent it to Evernote. Now comes the processing step. I can’t do this in two minutes, obviously, and “enter the OMG Number One You Are The Best Writer Ever writing contest by the 23rd” is kind of a useless next action because I haven’t written anything for it yet plus I don’t even know what the contest rules are. I could put this in Due, but when it beeps at me on the 23rd it will be too late for me to enter the contest. So entering the writing contest is actually a project, or a group of actions associated with a common goal or outcome. I have a handy project note template that I use for things like this, and in the “next action” space on that note I will enter what I think the next action is. It will be something like “Go to the writing contest website to find the rules.”

Now that’s doable.

This whole step is about transforming things that float around in your brain and in your inboxes into discrete units of work so you can spend less time thinking about doing stuff and just do the stuff.

Step 3: Organise.

I like this step. Maybe too much. Taxonomies, ahoy!

Next actions are okay by themselves, but they are much easier to handle when they are put in context. In this system, a context can be something like Errand for next actions like mailing a letter, because it requires going to the post office. I use tags to set contexts so I can focus my attention on the actions I can do next. My contexts include Calls, Computer, Home, and Work. Some actions require others’ help, or other factors that prevent forward movement. These are tagged with Wait.

Remember projects in Step 2? In my implementation, each project has its own notebook. The project note is kind of like a status document, where I can stuff brainstorming ideas and also keep track of next actions. It has a tag *Project so I can easily search on all of the projects in progress.

How about processing all those award-winning story ideas I’m nabbing out of the imaginatosphere with Drafts? Well, they aren’t actions, so they’re things I want to review or refer to later. They go into my “Writing Ideas” notebook where I can peek at them when I’m looking for ideas.

And last but not least, all those things that I might want to do someday (like run the Seven Hills of Edinburgh race) go into a notebook named “Someday/Maybe”.

GTD users will note the lack of a tickler file. If I need my memory “tickled” about something, I use the (not so) new reminder functionality in Evernote. These are different than items that need to be done at a certain time, which are kept in Due.

Step 4: Review.

Depending on how important you are, your daily review might be quite elaborate. Mine is very simple!

First I work on getting my email inbox and Evernote inbox to zero. Then I review what I need to get done: my next actions by context, my waiting-for actions, my projects, and my someday/maybe list. I use saved searches in Evernote to generate lists for each of these groups. Mine are modelled after the searches in this excellent write-up at My Simple Curiosity.

Step 5: Do.

If everything else is set up properly, this is the easiest step. GTD tells us that we should determine what to do next by context, by time available, by resources, and by priorities. The first part we have covered with the handy tags and saved searches. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. Do you have 15 minutes? Do a task that will take 15 minutes or less. And so on.

There is additional methodology about the nature of work and such, but I’ve got to leave something for the book, right?

Hooray for making it to the end of this post! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions. I’m happy to help you wrangle the chaos.

Writing from: the past! Kind of. (I started writing this post months ago!) And also the lounge. Listening to: “Hedphelym” by Aphex Twin.

Our cat is back on the drugs.

2013-12-09 23.09.16

I had something else to write about today, but all I can think about is Torgi. The extended blood panel indicated that he has slight hyperthyroidism, which is a very common thing for cats to have, and treatable with medication.

That medication started today. It involved me tricking him into looking upwards and gently opening his mouth before dropping a tiny pill down his wee throat. O, I felt bad for doing it. The poor guy has been through so much. He gave me such an intense stare right afterwards. Perhaps that was his version of a dirty look?

In four weeks we will find out if this is a temporary condition or if he will need daily medication for the rest of his life. I’m trying not to see this as a setback, but I had fooled myself into thinking that once he beat the diabetes he’d be free from all of this bad stuff.

When stress levels get high, my useless repetitive behaviour ramps up. In addition to this, I stuck close to home today so I could watch for bad side-effects of Torgi’s meds. The combination of these two things meant that I worked on everything I needed to do and yet somehow, magically, almost nothing got done.

Not even a clever lyric from They Might Be Giants from me today, I’m afraid. Just mope-twitch-mope-twitch. Please, December, let’s pull out of this tailspin.

Writing from: a mostly-dark lounge. Mope-tastic. Listening to: “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth” by Bing Crosby and David Bowie.

Sleeping is a gateway drug to being awake.

www.youtube.com/watch

(Ed. Note: I forgot to hit “post” on yesterday’s draft before I went out for the evening, so you get two Two TWO entries today.)

Okay, maybe I listen to things that aren’t They Might Be Giants. Sometimes. (Often.) So I’ll add a credit line to the end of each post.

Mako wrote this excellent post about film soundtracks two days ago. As much as I love listening to catchy songs with clever lyrics, I get distracted by them while I’m trying to work, so film soundtracks are solid listening choices for me. Today I enjoyed that Rdio station immensely as I cranked through some database stuff.

Because I am a little pathetic, I listened to Austra’s “Feel It Break” while eating dinner because that album reminds me of FunkyPlaid.

And this evening I spent some time talking to another musically-inclined friend, who recommended Bill Frisell’s “Nashville” album to me. I loved it, so I looked Mr. Frisell up on the intertubes and found this video of a duet he did this year with Chick Corea. I know next to nothing about jazz – so those among you who have opinions about this sort of thing are expected to share them and enlighten me – but I enjoyed this interplay between two different styles very much. Maybe you will too.

Writing from: a less cluttered table, lusting after a standing desk. Listening to: “Family” by Bill Frisell. Post title from: TMBG’s “Wearing a Raincoat”.

She's highly qualified and she's not a joke.

Today was my first day of work without training wheels. It went well! I felt useful and yet so, so new at the same time, which is a complicated feeling but I liked it.

I also registered for my first half-marathon. Gulp.

No, I haven’t been writing about running lately, although I’ve still been doing it in a somewhat desultory fashion. The late sunrise and early sunset times in conjunction with my new job have made it more challenging than usual, but I feel great when I get home and go right back out again. My new and improved training schedule is a little intense because the race is … about nine weeks away. Gulp. And in another country. Gulp-gulp!

(I really am very excited about it. Today is just the initial jolt of “this is happening” nerves.)

So. Let’s rip the training wheels off these metaphorical bikes and rush straight and true into whatever comes next.

I will tell you one thing: I will not be running that half-marathon in a tutu, cowboy hat, fake moustache, and sheriff’s badge like I did for the MoRunning 5K last month. Running in fancy dress is way more difficult than it has any right to be. I will tell you another thing: walking down the Royal Mile, post-race, still in my running gear, tutu, cowboy hat, and fake moustache, and sheriff’s badge was one of the best times I’ve ever had. So many double-takes, so much shocked laughter. I mean, really, if you saw this walking toward you, what else could you do?

confused_sheriff

Writing from: the propped-up iPad in bed, so this took ages. Listening to: “Damn Good Times” by They Might Be Giants.

Careen in tandem.

After I left work tonight, giant flakes of snow were falling but melting before they hit the ground. Still, it put me in a bit of a holiday mood, so I bought a pine-scented candle and a box of gluten-free mince pies at Tesco.

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I am still not totally sold on mince pies. They taste a little like pastry-wrapped pomanders to me. But, you know, I’ll forgive a lot for a concentrated hit of sugar.

When I got home, my wireless keyboard had stopped working and a couple of apps were crashing all over the place, so I spent the evening troubleshooting. It annoyed me tremendously. But in a pine-scented way. It’s funny how little patience I have for computer issues at home, while at work I’m completely content to help folks fix any little thing.

I had planned to spend the evening blasting through the email that has backed up, but I’m tired of computers right now. Time to curl up with a book. (I’m finally reading Neal Stephenson’s “Anathem”.)

Writing from: a very cranky mood at a very cluttered dining-room table. Listening to: “Mr. Xcitement” by They Might Be Giants.

I was a snowball in hell.

Our sweet tabby boy Torgi is no longer diabetic.

2013 12 05 22 20 47

After fifteen months of twice-daily insulin injections, I thoroughly enjoyed typing that sentence. And although we are waiting on the results of additional blood tests, we are celebrating with salmon and snuggles tonight.

Zen would like you to know that she is getting in on some of that action too.

2013 12 05 22 50 41

I hope you don’t mind cat photos in lieu of in-depth content. Hah, who am I kidding? Cats rule the Internet.

Writing from: Torgi’s side. Listening to: “Snowball in Hell” by They Might Be Giants.

A self called nowhere.

There’s no escaping the fact that we’re all fragile bags of meat. Today my immune system bottomed out. This happens more frequently than I would like, and when it does, there is not much to do but wait it out with rest and lots of water.

Occasionally when this happens I like to set aside the bag of meat for a little while and pretend I am hale and hearty and having adventures. Second Life lets me experience things like virtual ice-skating in a remote winter wonderland instead of just sitting at home, feeling miserable, with the wind blowing hard outside. I am grateful.

[SL] Ice-skating.

It is very important for me to maintain my spirits when I get ill. I too easily fall into the trap of feeling guilty, upset, depressed, or otherwise disappointed in myself for being sick, which is pointless and stupid but I do it anyway. This only prolongs the recovery period. Sometimes a frivolous distraction is exactly what I need to recalibrate.

[SL] Ice-skating closeup.

Tomorrow I will jump on that ever-growing pile of emails. Tonight I’ll skate, leaving faint traces on virtual ice in an invisible world.

Writing from: bed, with the electric blanket cranked up to 11. Listening to: “A Self Called Nowhere” by They Might Be Giants.

Then the people came to talk me down.

Writing prompts, schmiting prompts. I just got in from attending my first (but definitely not my last) Literary Death Match. It was much sillier and funnier than I thought it would be, although I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe I was expecting actual death? But there was none of that business. And it is always a treat to see and hear Kirsti read.

Whereas yesterday’s entry was long and thoughtful, today’s is short and dumb. But I did remember to take a photo to share with you.

… not of the fun literary event, no. That would have made sense.

2013 12 03 23 44 34

I can’t decide if I am more bothered by the fact that I impulse-buy lunchmeat at nearly midnight or that I missed one of the any-two-for deals. Get it together, self.

Writing from: Chez Meat, Edinburgh. Listening to: “Memo to Human Resources” by They Might Be Giants.

No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful.

Yesterday I completely ignored the first Holidailies writing prompt because I ran out of time. I was supposed to introduce myself. There is a meagre attempt at an introduction on my “about” page that you are welcome to peruse, but I’ve long given up on this sort of thing, which means I am never going to become a millionaire because my elevator pitch about myself consists of, “Uh, I’m interested in things.” This is wildly accurate but incredibly bad writing because, as John Hodgman says, “Specificity is the soul of narrative.”

My Twitter bio is:

I am a #writer, spoken-word #performer, #librarian, #VR enthusiast, #runner, #fountainpen collector, Yankee #expat in Scotland, and other things sans #hashtags.

This is also wildly accurate but similarly bad writing because it attempts to dissolve my personality into easily-digestible chunks. Like hydrochloric acid.

I know! I’ll do a writing exercise: I’ll write around the problem.

As I attempt to tackle the 14 emails in my inbox requiring some sort of action on my part, I observe that there is only a slug of tea left in my They Might Be Giants mug. I have reused this mug twice now because I hate doing dishes and also there are exactly six purple mugs hanging in a beautiful line over the sink and if I use one of those it will bother me while I drink my tea. This TMBG mug is one of only four items of what one could call “TMBG paraphernalia” that are in my immediate possession. Two are very rare CD-singles, which were precious gifts. (I don’t play them. I don’t know how to play them, frankly, since the only CD-playing thing I own is a laptop and it might eat them. I haven’t tried.) The other is my brand-new Nanobots zip-up hooded sweatshirt which is the coolest zip-up hooded sweatshirt I have ever owned, narrowly beating out the one with the LOST meta-joke on it.

I’m not really a band-paraphernalia person, I guess. But also I packed up all eight of my TMBG t-shirts and then didn’t bring them with me when I moved to Edinburgh in 2011, which is strange. I still don’t understand why I did that.

Now I am questioning my use of “paraphernalia” and have looked it up in the dictionary: “miscellaneous articles, especially the equipment needed for a particular activity.” I suppose I’m using it correctly, if it is equipment needed to enjoy TMBG, but it isn’t. Maybe the second definition is more accurate: “trappings associated with a particular institution or activity that are regarded as superfluous.”

I don’t like where we’re going with this. But I do like the “Brit. informal” synonym it gives me: gubbins.

Before I disappear into the rabbit-hole that is the meta-question of whether or not the TMBG mug is TMBG-enjoying paraphernalia or tea-drinking paraphernalia, I am going to change the topic completely because by now you’ve either decided that I am interesting enough to follow (that being shorthand for reading my site on a regular basis; please don’t literally follow me anywhere because I rarely know where I am going) or that I am too dull, too awkward, too something and not enough of the thing you like. In which case, here is a link for you! It’s called start.io and it’s a start page for your web browsing that you customise with links to the things you like best. So you can go do that now. Bye!

OK, if you’re still here, you’re in it for real. I can tell because of the steely gaze in your eye (maybe even both eyes) and your hardened resolve. Perhaps you’re procrastinating real work, or avoiding doing the dishes, or waiting for the bus, and have estimated that reading this is going to fill that unit of time so you’re not left alone with your thoughts. You know the ones. The itchy, spidery ones that creep under your collar and settle on your shoulders and chest like a lead vest during an x-ray. Existential ones. Morbid ones. The “what would happen if I stole that forklift and ran it full-bore into the side of a building” ones.

The only problem here is that I pretty much consist only of these thoughts.

Which is why I write.

On a good day, I get up first thing and I write three pages longhand in a journal. These are my “morning pages” and I got the idea from Julia Cameron. In case you don’t know of her, she’s written books about the creative process, the best-known of these called “The Artist’s Way”. Sometimes her tone is a bit much for me but she knows some cool tricks. One of these is the habit of morning pages. I crack open my Rhodia dot-grid notebook and unscrew the cap of my Esterbrook Dollar Pen and I just write whatever comes to mind. The first week was pretty tough. There were a few entries in which I got two pages down and then copied in a random Mary Oliver poem (with attribution, of course). But I kept at it and now I really miss it when my daily routine doesn’t allow for it. Getting the garbage out allows me to sit down later on in the day and just get to the business of writing.

Also, thanks to morning pages I find out stuff about myself that was lurking very close beneath the surface but wasn’t immediately apparent, like the fact that reading Facebook posts makes me profoundly sad. I quit Facebook for a while but came back so I could do some basic networking in my new home and also to combat the isolation I was feeling from faraway friends and family. Nowadays I cross-post content to Facebook, but whenever I wade into the feed it just bums me out. Because of specific mentions of Facebook in my morning pages, I was able to pinpoint this feeling. Twitter doesn’t impact me the same way. (Google+ doesn’t either, but that is because I find the UI so incomprehensible I don’t spend more than 10 seconds at a time on it.)

So, uh, have we gotten past the awkward introduction phase yet? I think so.

Today’s prompt asks what my favourite holiday song is, and why. This is a tough one for me because my holidays have always been filled with lots of music, and I have plenty of favourites. I’ve narrowed it down to three:

  • "Angels We Have Heard on High" because I have fond memories of singing this with my mom and substituting "In Excelsis Deo!" with "Inexpensive gym-shoes!"
  • "White Christmas" because the way Bing Crosby sings it makes me feel the warmth of one hundred mugs of mint cocoa.
  • Although this isn't a traditional holiday song, "What's This?" from "The Nightmare Before Christmas" because I feel like this every December.

This December I am going to have to work extra-hard to be in the holiday spirit. FunkyPlaid is back in the States for nearly the entire month in order to help out at the store. I snapped this on the way home from dropping him off at the airport.

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See that big wheel to the left of the Scott Monument? I’m going to ride that soon and feel holiday-ish. But not today, not yet. I’m still feeling like the Grinch. So that’s it for me today. Go visit my dear sharks because she is participating in Holidailies this year and I’m already riveted. I’m also snagging her “writing from / listening to” line for my entries.

Writing from: my chilly flat in Edinburgh, Scotland. Listening to: “Don’t Let’s Start” by They Might Be Giants.

a new home for the trumpeter swan

Now I've fooled around with MarsEdit for so long I don't have much time to write before midnight. Today is the first day of Holidailies, a tradition in which people update their blogs once every day for the month of December. I failed to finish NaNoWriMo this year, but I am committed to finishing this, dammit.

Maybe it will distract me from being apart from FunkyPlaid during "the festive period." This is what it was called in a work email recently and I appreciated its abject neutrality.

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The Meadows were foggy tonight. I tricked my phone into snapping this before autofocusing because it looked so spooky out there.

Cool kids have blog titles with lines from poems. I have TMBG lyrics. This one is from "Sometimes a Lonely Way" on their new album, "Nanobots". I meant to write about how it is relevant but that will have to wait for another entry because I am so sleepy.

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I acknowledge that I live and work on stolen Cowlitz, Clackamas, Atfalati, and Kalapuya land.
I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.