cygnoir.net

Project 365: A photo a day in 2016.

Welcome to my Project 365! This year I will be posting a photo a day with a wee bit of explanation. You can follow along via email or RSS (with the links in the left-hand sidebar) or on:

Twitter · Facebook · Google+ · Tumblr · Instagram · Pinterest

Here are my three favorite posts from this year so far: Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset 20160430_petunia img_6784

(If you are here to find out more about my stories and games, please head directly to my “Fiction &c.” page.)

On making messes.

Today I thought I might talk to you about making messes. And just before sitting down to write, I peeked at Twitter, and saw this tweet:

twitter.com/matthaig1…

I have never been terribly good at making messes. I cringe at my own floundering, especially when it comes to writing, because my taste is better than my current skill level. NaNoWriMo was a special kind of hell for me, which made it all the more important that I finish: I love surprises, but hate being surprised by myself. This is why I spend time every morning writing the mess out of my brain, what Julia Cameron termed “morning pages”. I grab my notebook and a fountain pen and I make a mess. I am okay with this mess.

But then NaNoWriMo happened, one 50,000-word mess. I’m glad I did it, and glad I finished, but it shook my confidence in my ability to tell a coherent story. My meticulous planning was abandoned within the first week because every time I sat down to write I had no interest in telling the story found in my outline. Knowing that it was more important to get words onto the page than to be strict about an outline, I opted for messy writing. New characters were invented, stuck around for a scene or two, and then disappeared. The protagonists went off on tangents that did not further the plot in any way. I barely adhered to basic rules of grammar.

I would love to tell you that it felt great to make this mess, but most days were slogs punctuated by brief moments of mediocrity. And I realise that all first drafts are crap, but a short story draft has the one shining benefit of being short. By the end of November I had the distinct feeling of being trapped at a party with people who kept cornering me in the kitchen with random anecdotes. “And another thing,” one would tell me as I looked longingly toward the door, stirring the ice in my empty drink. “Have I mentioned my long-lost cousin? Because I really think she would show up right about now and explain about the time I almost drowned as a kid.” What? Okay, no. Stop.

But now that I have a week of distance from NaNoWriMo, I see two bright spots to all this mess-making. One, by wildly bashing away at a keyboard for a month I refined an okay idea to a good one. Only a fraction of that good idea is in the first draft, so it will require a significant rewrite, but now I know the story I really want to tell. And the second bright spot was the camaraderie I felt by sharing this huge, ridiculous undertaking with other people. My mom and I texted our word-counts and encouragement to each other every day, which helped me stay focused despite being demoralised. And my friend sharks and I conducted several terrific writing-sprint sessions together, including our very last so we crossed the finish line at the same time.

I know my writing, and my life, would be better if I could learn to be okay with making a mess. How many things do I prevent myself from trying because I’m afraid to mess them up?

Perpetual twilight in the Beast's castle.

NaNoWriMo took much more out of me, creatively, than I expected. Every day this week I have attempted to compose a complete Holidailies entry and failed. But it isn’t all NaNoWriMo’s fault. I’ve been battling the dreaded lurgy since the last week of November, and now this part of the world has been plunged into perpetual twilight.

All right, so it’s nothing so dramatic. But on the greyer days, the sky never lightens completely, and “daytime” is around nine in the morning to three in the afternoon. It can feel rather bleak. Add to that the blustery weather, which has been providing my subconscious with a fun soundscape, especially what sounds like a cut-rate radio drama generic ghost sound wandering the halls with a “whoooooOOOOOOOoooooo!” in the middle of the night.

So what’s a sick, sleep-deprived, creatively-stagnant, FunkyPlaid-missing swan to do?

flic.kr/p/BSeWkn

You’re right. Touring spooky castles in virtual reality is a spectacular idea.

DRD’s Mystic Bastion is more than an astounding homage to the Beast’s castle from “Beauty and the Beast”. This castle and all of its furnishings are gacha prizes. If you aren’t familiar with gacha, picture those vending machines containing little plastic toys that can be won for a coin. In Second Life, this method of winning random prizes has become a bit of a phenomenon. The end result is elaborate sets like this one.

flic.kr/p/BPWw4U

For a brief moment, I played gacha machines in Second Life. I stopped because it hits me square in that crazy “collector” place in my brain I try to avoid, the one that says I have to have complete sets of anything I aim to collect. So although I don’t partake anymore, I do enjoy seeing the result of healthy creative competition, especially when the end result is a gigantic castle.

flic.kr/p/BGANF9

So in the half-darkness, I creep around the creations of others and try to kickstart my own inspiration.

flic.kr/p/BiEnTk

I’m not a fan of fairytales, but I sure do appreciate a gorgeous library.

Photo credits: my own raw snaps from Second Life. Click through each pic for creator credits.

Holidailies 2015.

Hello again, Holidailies! I decided to celebrate my first-ever NaNoWriMo win with another month-long writing project. As a Holidailies participant, I will attempt to update cygnoir.net every day in the month of December. This will be a bit easier than writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

I’m still recovering from the lurgy so this will be brief, but I have so much to share with you this month. I hope you stick around.

Photo credit: It’s snowing at my home in Second Life! The snow may be virtual, but watching it fall gets me into an actual holiday mood.

NaNoWriMo 2015

It’s almost here! National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, begins on Sunday. I will endeavour to write 50,000 words in the month of November. This undertaking is about quantity, not quality, so I cannot vouch for the words themselves, only the ridiculous number of them. This word count meter will update throughout the month so check back if you want to see how I’m faring.

But I’m a planner at heart, and so I’m using a fantastic tool called WorkFlowy to keep the chaos at bay. Frank Degenaar of Productivity Mashup has just published a thorough and engaging book called “Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy”. In this interview for the WorkFlowy blog, Frank and I chatted about how I use WorkFlowy to create detailed outlines for my fiction. I also shared the WorkFlowy outlining template I created for use in NaNoWriMo and beyond.

If you do not want to participate in NaNoWriMo but would still like to support the 501©(3) nonprofit that makes it all possible, you can donate via my fundraising page.

Wish me luck!

Waiting for perfection.

Life

“If I waited for perfection, I’d never write a word.” –Margaret Atwood

Often I want to say something important in the perfect way, so I keep putting it off until I figure out the perfect way. If the perfect way never occurs to me, I never say the important thing.

The point is to say the thing because there will never be a perfect way. (Thanks, Ms. Atwood.)

So here’s the thing: in January, we are leaving Scotland to move back to the States. After getting our bearings in the San Francisco Bay Area we will likely end up in Portland, Oregon.

I have approximately thirty-seven different feelings about this move. On the whole, I think it will be the best thing for us. But Scotland has been home for four years, and there is so much I love about it, hence my wish for perfection in relating the news.

But it is better to say the thing. We’ll go from here.

FunkyPlaid will be in the States to navigate the store through the holiday season again, so I will have one last solo Christmas in Edinburgh. It will be more bittersweet this time than ever, but I am determined not to spend all of it feeling sorry for myself (or packing, even though there will be plenty of that). Plus, my favourite shark will be visiting for part of December, and I can’t wait to show her around this wonderful place.

Work

I fear there will be no more JDB1745 updates until life evens out sometime early next year. However, FunkyPlaid’s thesis is complete! His viva voce (thesis defense) isn’t until January, though, so no calling him Doc Plaid yet.

Sunday is my last day of work at the weekend gig. Tough to believe that it has already been two years! Time to polish up the CV and start the Stateside job-hunt. Know of any wonderful libraries in the Portland area who are looking for an enthusiastic tech-loving librarian?

Writing

Amidst all of the other craziness I decided to attempt NaNoWriMo again this year. It might seem like terrible timing but considering how my mental health improves when I make time to write every day, this will be good for me. I’ve been whipping my writing muscles into shape by participating in daily “dashes” with a group in Second Life called Virtual Writers. My current pace is about 1,000 words per hour. Since my goal is 1,667 words per day during November that means almost two hours of daily writing. I’m excited.

Wellness

Speaking of getting into shape, it is time for another running challenge! I’m going for a sub-30:00 in the Great Winter Run, my last race in Edinburgh. The course is once around Arthur’s Seat, and it is a great way to start the year.

Media

Reading

  • "Hamilton" by Ron Chernow (just started)
  • "The Book of Strange New Things" by Michel Faber (finished, but not yet reviewed)
  • "The Heart Goes Last" by Margaret Atwood (finished, but not yet reviewed)
  • "Eleanor and Park" by Rainbow Rowell
  • "Seveneves" by Neal Stephenson (no, I still haven't finished this)

Listening

Music

The “Hamilton” musical soundtrack has been on endless repeat this month. Not much else.

Podcasts

I started listening to the Tanis podcast because it is produced by the same folks who do The Black Tapes Podcast, and that season is now over. I am glad there is something spooky and weird to tide me over, but I am not yet sold on Tanis. I’ll keep listening, though.

Playing

FunkyPlaid got me hooked on Dungeon Boss, a battle game with cute retro graphics.

Watching

Television

“Homeland” and “Les Revenants” and “Downton Abbey” have all started up again now. Before they did, FunkyPlaid and I started watching “Utopia” (UK version) which is all kinds of thought-provoking and disturbing so I hesitate to call it enjoyable.

Film

Stage

I had the huge privilege of seeing my mom in a play called “The Cheek” in Tourmakeady, Ireland – where the play was set! It was a great production and my mom gave a stunning performance. I hope to have some photos of Ireland to share soon, if I can ever stop playing Dungeon Boss.

Internetting

I Faved This

twitter.com/BofMouais…

You Faved This

twitter.com/cygnoir/s…

Ink o' the Week

Noodler’s Black Swan in Australian Roses, because I was looking for a purple with excellent shading and this Goulet Pens post reminded me.

Photo credit: Autumn arrived at my home in Second Life. I sure do love fall foliage, even the kind on virtual trees.

Opt out of empathy with the new Peeple app

This morning I glanced at my feed reader and saw a mention of an upcoming app Peeple, “like Yelp for people.” This made me chuckle because I was certain that this was some sort of parody app, similar to Emojli, allowing us to poke fun at ourselves while making a non-subtle statement on how social media objectifies experiences.

No. Peeple is real. And it’s coming to iOS devices next month.

(Its tagline, “Character Is Destiny,” is more Orwellian than anything I could have dreamed.)

I don’t even know where to start with this. Anyone can rate you, and include personally identifying information about you as well. Biased reviews (from someone with an axe to grind) or inaccurate ones (from someone mistaking you for someone else) cannot be deleted. This from their website, in response to “How do I dispute a review of me?”

When another user makes a negative comment about you (2 stars or less) the comment does not go live right away. It goes into your inbox on the app, you will be notified, and now you have 48 hours timer to work it out with the user. If you cannot turn a negative into a positive the comment will go live and then you can publicly defend yourself.

If I can’t convince someone to change their mind — someone who thinks it is socially appropriate to publicly shame me via a negative rating on an app — I can publicly defend myself. There is no way to opt out from being rated. No one involved with the creation or funding of this app has ever been harassed, apparently. Bully for them. For those of us who have, this app is a horrifying glimpse into what happens when people prioritise data over lives.
To the founders and funders of Peeple: go out into the world and have an interaction with a person. Think critically about it. Consider that the person might have been having a rotten day, or a great day, or a normal day. Likely their experience of the same interaction will not match your own. This is totally normal because we are all individuals. Feel something called empathy that allows you to try to put yourself in another’s position. And then write that down in a thing called a notebook. If you really need a rating system, buy some gold stickers and stick them in your notebook. Whatever you do, stop trying to capitalise on the objectification of your fellow human beings. That is, if being human is still important to you. After reading about your app, I have no evidence that it is. Photo credit: Micolo J.

Review: Eleanor and Park

Eleanor and Park Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m a tough sell when it comes to YA books. Most of them are too obvious for me to enjoy, either as dystopian hellholes or glossy music videos. But when a friend recommended “Eleanor and Park” to me, I was ready for either hellhole or music video, as long as it was a fast read for a chilly autumn evening.

What I read was a savvy paean to young love between two misfits amidst the myriad land-mines that dot adolescence. Darker issues also lurk in the background of one of our protagonists, but these are written so gracefully that they don’t feel like plot devices. (Trigger warnings apply, however; this is not a Hallmark card.)

The most remarkable thing about this remarkable book is that the two protagonists are completely believable human beings that aren’t forced to change what makes them unique in order to find acceptance, to find happiness.

I enjoyed every moment of reading this, not least for the nostalgic dip into my own awkward youth in the 1980s. I read it in one sitting, tearing up often and crying wholeheartedly at the ending, which leaves its characters with hope that is neither saccharine nor contrived. This was a beautiful book and I look forward to reading more of Rainbow Rowell’s fiction.

View all my reviews

This Week and Last Month

Life

I’m writing to a prompt today, just for the hell of it: “I can do strange things, believe me.” The strangest thing I do these days is ponder Mendelian genetics in order to better breed virtual cats in a dying world. (It’s not really dying, or it is, depending on who you ask. Does it matter?)

Did I ever do stranger things, or did I only trick myself into believing that my brand of normalcy was So Different? Yesterday I read David Orr’s article in the Paris Review about the most misread poem in America, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, and I admit to feeling a little vindicated. And perhaps a little sad.

Like many other nascent lit-nerds, I memorised this poem after misreading it heartily and shoving it in front of myself like a badge, a shield, a sticky post on the blog feed of my identity. I might have scribbled it across notebooks in high school, or inked it on the hem of a jacket, or used it for earlier posts on this very site. (I haven’t looked but they’re probably there.)

I won’t blame my younger self, or anyone. How could I? That tattered shred I clung to was choice. Choices. The ability to say to oneself, to the world: I could do this thing, but then I could do something else. Isn’t choice the foundation of hope? To rub off the bravado of American identity from the poem and really read it again to discover that the speaker knows the paths are not all that different. He knows and yet he will someday tell someone — someone impressionable? someone who knows better? — that that single choice made “all the difference”.

I don’t think I could have understood this meaning before I moved here and was forced to confront my American obsession with choice. How many times have you read my laments on the lack of peanut butter brands in Scotland, where peanut butter isn’t even a thing that people want to put on sandwiches hardly ever, let alone shove into their maws slathered on a Nutella-dipped spoon? How many times have I been utterly stumped by blasé responses to my suggestions at work? Not that people here don’t value choices, but I believe they’re less starry-eyed by the illusion of it. How much choice do we really have, and how much does it matter when our older, wiser selves evaluate how it’s all gone by?

It is startling to ponder how comforting an illusion can become. A couple of weeks ago I had to face a demon in the form of a minor medical procedure. Since I’ve encountered this demon before, I know some tricks that can help, mostly deep-breathing exercises. Creative visualisation doesn’t do much for me when I am panicking, even as much as I love falling into daydream. But the deep breaths weren’t doing too much and so I conjured an apparition of our wee lost Torgi. I could see him in front of me down to the bristliest whisker. Calmed me right down. Illusion, comfort: thank you. Call it whatever you want.

Sometimes we know we’re lying to ourselves and we do it anyway.

I can do strange things, believe me.

Work

JDB1745 is still lightly napping as the thesis takes the foreground. Every once in a while it twitches in its sleep and I jot some notes down for the next phase, and then we both go back to focusing on other things. For now.

The weekend gig has picked up steam for the first weeks of the new semester. I’m back down to only one day of overlap with most coworkers right about the time when I could use more days of overlap just to stay in the right loops. That’s the most challenging bit of the job: keeping on top of the input streams, and sifting through them all to ensure I retain the bits that are relevant to the weekend staff. Once a week, I wish we would all use Slack.

Writing

Illicit Ink’s Jura Unbound show in the Edinburgh International Book Festival, “Happily Never Ever”, was a blast as you can see from the photographic evidence.

And finally, finally I have made a breakthrough in this story that has been wrecking me to write. I owe that to a dear friend who talked it through with me in a very non-pressuring (yet gently nudging) way. If you do anything creative, I hope you have a friend like this, someone in your area of creativity who challenges you to be better at it. Or just to finish drafts.

Wellness

Instead of trying to hit arbitrary benchmarks like step goals in Misfit, I’ve been using Exist to explore trends and correlations in the data I’m collecting. Mood tracking has been particularly useful, as I can see on my Exist dashboard that my mood is better when I am more active and get solid sleep. So do more of that, self.

The weather has turned colder once more, and the days are shortening, so it will be time to break out the light-box before long. I’m kicking around the idea of training for a fun-run in November just to keep my body moving.

Media

Reading

Have I have been reading Neal Stephenson’s “Seveneves” forever, or does it just feel like it? I don’t know if I am enjoying it, either. Two-thirds in, the timeline jumped ahead five thousand years, so everyone I cared about was long dead. I will say this for Mr. Stephenson: he has gumption. And pages. So many pages.

My to-read pile is starting to organise itself. I fear it shall revolt soon.

Listening

Music

Last.fm underwent a redesign and reduced the functionality of the site significantly. I’m not going to complain about it here because Last.fm has a support site for that. For now I’ll list a couple of things I’ve listened to recently.

Radio Riel, mostly their Ragtime stream: I found out about Radio Riel through a community in Second Life that I visit called New Toulouse which is “loosely themed after New Orleans and the bayou, 1900-1925.” (If that sounds like someplace you’d like to visit, let me know and I would be happy to give you a tour.) If you just want to hear the soundtrack of the place, give this Ragtime stream a listen.

Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist: This is all over the place, like my listening habits, but I’m enjoying what the robots have suggested for me so far. Nadine Shah is the best new listen the playlist has given me.

Podcasts

The Black Tapes Podcast: Recommended by a Writers’ Bloc comrade, this docudrama gives me the whim-whams in the best way. Think “Serial” crossed with “The X-Files” (and now that I’ve looked at some of their social media streams, I see that I didn’t come up with that description).

If you are new to podcasts, or simply don’t know how to get started with listening, try PocketCasts. It is the easiest and best way to subscribe and listen to podcasts from your Android device, Windows Phone, iOS device, or web browser. And if you’re a Twitter user, view my Podcasts list for some other recommendations.

Playing

  • Alphabear (iOS/Android): Spry Fox made another fun game, this one with word-building and power-ups in the form of cute collectible bears. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen some of my Alphabear tweets.
  • Fallen London (Web, and soon iOS): Billed as “a free, browser-based, literary RPG of sorts” it’s no wonder why I enjoy it. I also like a game that I can dip into whenever I like and don’t lose (much) progress.

Watching

Television

FunkyPlaid and I re-watched “Firefly” and then “Serenity” and loved them all over again. We are now about to finish the first season of “The Trip” which is painful and terrific all at once.

Film

“Hector and the Search for Happiness”: ★★½.

Stage

Festival season was eventful! I saw several shows, including two Bloc comrades in the SHIFT/ Spoken Word series and Puddles Pity Party.

Internetting

I Faved This

twitter.com/brian_bil…

You Faved This

twitter.com/cygnoir/s…

Ink o’ the Week

Diamine Ancient Copper: the colour of crunchy autumn leaves. Badass orange-brown with super shading, made all the sweeter because it was a gift from someone super.

Photo credit: Just a pretty garden in Second Life that I found. (If you’re reading this via email or RSS feed, I’m not sure it will show up, so click here to see it.)

The end of summer.

the end of summer

Outside, the end-of-festival fireworks are sounding. Inside, and then again inside a home inside a virtual world, the end of summer draws near as well. That is, if you adhere to the symbolism of seasons in a place where they do not have to exist at all, and I do.

I was going to create a new blog only for my Second Life snaps, but I cannot be fussed. Instead, you can view my Second Life category of posts and subscribe to the RSS feed if that’s your bag.

If none of this is to your liking, pretend you “accidentally” peeked through a neighbour’s window just now. That’s all it is … a glimpse into someone else’s set of foibles and fascinations.

Credits (vaguely left-to-right):

  • Apple Fall Clifton Cast Iron Fireplace (white)
  • junk. wannabe boho. petal mirror. metal.
  • [ContraptioN] Music Box: Berceuse des Amoureux
  • [ARIA] Rosalind bent neck swan
  • KittyCats - Stromness (yes, I have virtual cats, too)
  • AF Interior Plant
  • AF Reading Pile
  • Apple Fall Joanne Crystal Lamp
  • junk. boho curtain.
  • Second Spaces - Cluttered House - charging station
  • AF Recycled Desk
  • Apple Fall Coffee & Muffin
  • -tres blah- Hodgepodge - Agenda RARE
  • Apple Fall Bea Reading Chair (Worn Leather)
  • Apple Fall Lightbulb Terrarium
  • Schadenfreude Dark Angel Dress Form RARE
  • Constellation Map - Cygnus Gacha
  • Apple Fall Charlotte Cabinet
  • +sanctuaire+ antique radio - walnut - portable
  • ISPACHI - The Arrival - Lamentation of Swans
  • AF Books
  • Apple Fall Leather Moccasins
  • MudHoney Zelia Bag
  • Sari-Sari - Assorted Mail
  • NOMAD // Wall Calendar
  • Apple Fall Books Occasional Table w/ Blanket
  • Apple Fall Boxed Supplies w/ Spectacles
  • Apple Fall Cotton Cluster
  • AF Rico's Clock
  • dust bunny . small spaces kitchen . island cabinet
  • Lark - Croissants
  • MIASNOW Home - RUG LOTUS 10 ~black to brown
  • Trompe Loeil - Garden Bard Abode

Some Things Your Local Librarians Would Like You To Know

backofthebookshelf:

It is not a stupid question. Even if it is a stupid question, we have been thoroughly trained to answer your question without judgement or second-guessing. Besides, we’re mostly just glad you’re not asking us about the noise the printer is making again.

There are probably (at least) two desks in the library. One is where you check out books and is mostly staffed by people wearing nametags that say “Circulation Clerk.” These people can answer your questions about damaged or missing books, fines, and how many forms of identification we’ll need if you want to get a library card but your mailing address is in Taiwan. The other one is closer to the books and computers and is mostly staffed by people wearing nametags that say “Librarian.” These people can answer your questions about spider extermination, how to rent property to the United States Postal Service, and the number of tropical island nations in which you could theoretically establish the first United States Embassy. We would love to answer these questions for you. It would be a nice change from the printer.

We probably own a 3D printer by now. 3D printers, are cool, right? Please, please come use our 3D printer, it’s so lonely.

We spent a lot of money to hire this woodworker to come and teach a class at the library which you can attend for free. You will probably be the only person between the ages of ten and fifty in attendance, but your presence will fill the librarian with an unnameable joy. They will float back to their manager in a daze. “A young person came to my program,” they will say. You will have made their entire job worthwhile.

Every time you ask us for a book, movie, or music recommendation, a baby librarian gets their first cardigan.

Somewhere in the library, there is a form. If you fill out this form with your name and library card number and the details of the thing you are looking for, we will find you the thing. Sometimes the answer is “the thing is in Great Britain and they will not send it to us,” but more often the thing will just appear on hold for you, and one day you will pick up a copy of that out-of-print book you never thought you would read and maybe you will say, “Wow, the library is amazing,” and the librarian’s heart will glow. 

Please bring back book #2. The rest of its series misses it very much.

Five dollars is not a large library fine. Believe me, before I started working in libraries, I too wondered how someone could sleep at night, knowing they owed money to the library. When we laugh as you sheepishly apologize for your $2.50 in overdue fees, we are not mocking you, we are thinking of the ten people we sent to debt collection already today.

We really don’t care why you’re checking out Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe you have a specifically-themed ironic bachelorette party to plan. Maybe you’re working on a thesis paper about mainstream media’s depiction of female sexuality. Maybe you just got curious. We will give you the benefit of the doubt. 

Whatever you’re smoking in the family restroom, please stop.

Somewhere on the library’s website, buried under “Links” or “Research” or “On-line Resources,” is a page that a librarian spent a month’s worth of work on. It contains many links to websites you thought everyone knew about, and one to a page that you could never have imagined existed that perfectly solves a problem you never expected to be resolved. 

Imagine the kind of person who would think to themselves, “Library school sounds like a thing I should do.” For the most part, you are imagining the kind of person who is now a librarian. We want very much to help you, but we’re not entirely sure how to do that unless you ask. You are not bothering us. Please, come and say hi.

Some Things Your Local Librarians Would Like You To Know

backofthebookshelf:

It is not a stupid question. Even if it is a stupid question, we have been thoroughly trained to answer your question without judgement or second-guessing. Besides, we’re mostly just glad you’re not asking us about the noise the printer is making again.

There are probably (at least) two desks in the library. One is where you check out books and is mostly staffed by people wearing nametags that say “Circulation Clerk.” These people can answer your questions about damaged or missing books, fines, and how many forms of identification we’ll need if you want to get a library card but your mailing address is in Taiwan. The other one is closer to the books and computers and is mostly staffed by people wearing nametags that say “Librarian.” These people can answer your questions about spider extermination, how to rent property to the United States Postal Service, and the number of tropical island nations in which you could theoretically establish the first United States Embassy. We would love to answer these questions for you. It would be a nice change from the printer.

We probably own a 3D printer by now. 3D printers, are cool, right? Please, please come use our 3D printer, it’s so lonely.

We spent a lot of money to hire this woodworker to come and teach a class at the library which you can attend for free. You will probably be the only person between the ages of ten and fifty in attendance, but your presence will fill the librarian with an unnameable joy. They will float back to their manager in a daze. “A young person came to my program,” they will say. You will have made their entire job worthwhile.

Every time you ask us for a book, movie, or music recommendation, a baby librarian gets their first cardigan.

Somewhere in the library, there is a form. If you fill out this form with your name and library card number and the details of the thing you are looking for, we will find you the thing. Sometimes the answer is “the thing is in Great Britain and they will not send it to us,” but more often the thing will just appear on hold for you, and one day you will pick up a copy of that out-of-print book you never thought you would read and maybe you will say, “Wow, the library is amazing,” and the librarian’s heart will glow. 

Please bring back book #2. The rest of its series misses it very much.

Five dollars is not a large library fine. Believe me, before I started working in libraries, I too wondered how someone could sleep at night, knowing they owed money to the library. When we laugh as you sheepishly apologize for your $2.50 in overdue fees, we are not mocking you, we are thinking of the ten people we sent to debt collection already today.

We really don’t care why you’re checking out Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe you have a specifically-themed ironic bachelorette party to plan. Maybe you’re working on a thesis paper about mainstream media’s depiction of female sexuality. Maybe you just got curious. We will give you the benefit of the doubt. 

Whatever you’re smoking in the family restroom, please stop.

Somewhere on the library’s website, buried under “Links” or “Research” or “On-line Resources,” is a page that a librarian spent a month’s worth of work on. It contains many links to websites you thought everyone knew about, and one to a page that you could never have imagined existed that perfectly solves a problem you never expected to be resolved. 

Imagine the kind of person who would think to themselves, “Library school sounds like a thing I should do.” For the most part, you are imagining the kind of person who is now a librarian. We want very much to help you, but we’re not entirely sure how to do that unless you ask. You are not bothering us. Please, come and say hi.

This Week and Other Weeks

Life

I have tried to write this several times now. It never goes well. I find unsettling analogies, or take refuge in bluntness, or just pretend the thing that happened didn’t happen at all so I can get through the first paragraph. But it happened. And it derailed the tail-end of my spring completely.

I keep thinking that I will be ready to write about it, and then I will, and then these entries (which were supposed to be weekly status updates, and nothing more) won’t loom in my to-do list like horrible chores.

But I am still not ready to write about it, the thing that happened, and so I’ll just say that at the start of May one of our cats died and he was so much more than “one of our cats” and it was so much worse than I imagined it could be and it continues to hurt every day and I don’t want to write anything more about it so we’ll just move on from here.

Okay? Okay.

The thing that happened disrupted everything. Because I let it, and because my everything was already so precarious. So any good tracks I was on, consider those derailed. Any good habits I had forged, consider those discarded.

Rage, even now, two months past, blindsides me. The smallest things irritate me past rational points. Most social media channels are unbearable not because they have changed but because I have. I don’t know if I will get my old self back.

I don’t know if I want my old self back.

The strangest part of grief is the compulsion to keep pressing myself against the serrated edge of his absence. I am mostly over that phase now but sometimes it comes over me, the need to prod that wound, like I still don’t believe it, so that the pain will make me believe it.

I still don’t believe it.

But I make myself believe it.

Before the thing that happened, I had planned to travel to the States in June to celebrate a milestone in my mother’s life. When the thing happened, the trip carried another weight: I needed to escape, both geographically and mentally.

And then right before I left our other cat had surgery for a fibrosarcoma on her back. She’s doing fine for now.

Grief and worry have a way of clouding memory but here’s some of what I remember of my life from the past few months.

Work

Not much to report on JDB1745, and this will likely continue through the end of the year. There will be small refinements to make but FunkyPlaid must focus on finishing his thesis now so we can’t undertake any major movements. I’m squirrelling away all sorts of ideas for the next phase of our project, and the more I do, the more I look forward to working on it.

The weekend gig is more intense project-wise over the summer, plus many folks are away on leave, so I feel more isolated than usual. I continue to struggle with the balance of wanting to throw myself completely into a job and only being there three days a week.

Writing

The guest post I wrote for Cat Rambo’s blog on motivational tools for writers was published. The timing was darkly amusing; my own writerly motivation had ground to a halt.

But now I am recovering, and I am currently working on two projects:

  1. Assembling some short stories together into chapbook form.
  2. Writing a short comedic piece for the Book Festival. Illicit Ink will present a show called “Happily Never After” for Jura Unbound and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

Wellness

Misfit changed their app and I no longer have a weekly tally of points, so here I’ll start tracking how many days in the last week I hit my fitness goal: 2. Not great.

In April, May, and June I was around the 2-3 days per week mark. One day in May I somehow managed almost twice my goal and my personal best since I started using my Shine by having a normal workday but tacking on a social event in the evening that was 1.5 miles away.

So yeah. I need more exercise.

Media

Reading

Since the end of March I’ve read some good books, fiction unless otherwise specified:

  • “The Bees” by Laline Paull
  • “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig (memoir about depression)
  • “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler
  • “The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion” by Elle Luna (figuring out what you want to do with your life, then following through)
  • “All My Puny Sorrows” by Miriam Toews
  • “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

And that leaves me at 11 books this year. I will have to seriously hustle to make my goal of 50.

Listening

I am giving Apple Music a whirl. So far I love the playlists it suggests for me but it doesn’t have built-in scrobbling capabilities like Rdio or Spotify. For those of us who love tracking what we listen to with Last.fm, that is a disappointment.

My top artists for the past three months:

  1. Chouchou
  2. Ratatat
  3. Louis Armstrong

A friend made a Neo80s mixtape (mixCD?) that I’ve been enjoying too. Lots of M83, White Lies, HAIM, Grimes … really good stuff.

How do I not have a podcast section? I’ll fix that now. My top podcast listens for the past three months (and I am stealing the blurbs from their websites):

  1. Judge John Hodgman: You might know John Hodgman as the PC from those Apple commercials but those are the least of his comedic accomplishments. His podcast is laugh-out-loud funny as well as also thoughtful and interesting.
  2. RISK!: Listen to real people tell true stories. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes disturbing, always intriguing. Like The Moth’s more worrisome cousin.
  3. Mystery Show: I never thought I would care enough about Jake Gyllenhaal’s height to listen to a 40-minute podcast about it. Then I heard Mystery Show.

Playing

  • 80 Days (videogame, tablet): I am not good at this game, probably because of the timed element, but I keep going back to it for the interactive story parts. I still have not made it around the world in 80 days. Will I ever? Who knows.
  • Splendor (boardgame, 2-4 players): FunkyPlaid taught me how to play this and I think I like it. It feels similar in some ways to Dominion, which I love and don’t play nearly enough. I’d like to play it again.
  • Gone Home (videogame, desktop): I finally purchased this on Steam when it was on sale and played through in a few hours. The plot and execution were both excellent, and the experience was worth much more than the price I paid.
  • Fallout Shelter (videogame, tablet): I tried. I really did. But I got so bored.

Watching

Television

FunkyPlaid and I finished “Les Revenants” at the end of April and went on to “Orphan Black”. The first two seasons were so good; the third became unwatchable for me. We stalled out partway through and finished up the season of “Outlander” instead. As of last night we are on the second season of “House of Cards” (US version).

I stopped watching “Game of Thrones” after the infamous episode with Ramsay and Sansa’s wedding night. With that source material and that cast and that budget, there is no excuse for lazy writing. Later I heard that the show has diverged even more from the books, so that’s probably it for me.

Film

I finally saw the film “What We Do in the Shadows” on the plane ride to the States, which was even better than I thought it would be. If you like mockumentaries and Flight of the Conchords, don’t miss this.

Stage

Internetting

I Faved This

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You Faved This

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Ink o’ the Week

Daily carry

  • Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-Jaku: I raved about this ink before and my excitement has not abated. It is a perfect ink in my Lamy 2000. If you are looking for a saturated blue-green with ridiculous amounts of shading, try this one.
  • Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-Budo: This is in my new Pilot Metropolitan, a gift from a pen-loving friend, which surprised me with how well it writes. Despite the fine nib the Yama-Budo provides a nice shading between dark fuchsia to light burgundy. It is an elegant ink.

Wish list

Photo credit: my Instagram.

Departures, a return to interactive fiction.

I have been in love with interactive fiction ever since the first time I slipped the first 5¼” floppy of Infocom’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” into my Commodore 64’s disk drive. It was an intoxicating melange of Douglas Adams’ peculiar brand of surreal silliness, devious puzzle-solving, and the idea that I could slip inside a story and become part of it.

Later, I would find some measure of satisfaction in constructing scenarios and settings within MUDs, but did not know enough about coding to do much more than world-building and Easter-egg-hiding. Role-playing was firmly within my wheelhouse, though; as a theatre brat who dabbled in playwriting, stage directions and emotive word-choices were second nature to me. I decided that role-playing was my bag, and I’d leave interactive fiction writing to the professionals.

But interactive fiction popped up on my radar again when I came across Zoe Quinn’s “Depression Quest”. It hit me hard the first time I played it, then harder on replay: certain options you wish to take are simply unavailable to you. They sound good. You know you should do them. And yet you cannot. This, to me, communicated an intrinsic aspect of depression. It was a brilliant piece of game construction. The rest of it is also excellent, but this part stuck with me. I was curious about how it was built, and that’s when I first heard about Twine, an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories. I noodled around with it a bit but didn’t have a story idea begging to be told this way, so I promptly forgot about it.

Recently my friend Gavin Inglis wrote an interactive story called “Hana Feels”. “Story” seems like a flaccid descriptor here because the project’s goals are much larger than telling a story. “Hana Feels” teaches us how to talk to people who self-harm. It exercises our empathy muscles. It asks us to push past our own experience to connect with another human who needs it most.

“Hana Feels” is a poignant and dismaying and important piece of writing, not only for addressing the stigma of talking about issues such as self-harm but for showing us there is still a great chasm between what we say, what we mean, and what someone in distress is capable of hearing and understanding. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so see it for yourself (note: it is still in beta, with the final release later this month). Gav created this story with Twine, and experiencing the complexity of “Hana Feels” inspired me to reconsider using Twine to write interactive fiction myself. And then he told me about Twiny Jam, an event that ended just this morning, in which creators use Twine to make a 300-word interactive moment and share it with each other.

The prospect scared me. So I knew I had to do it.

Some time ago, I confided in a dear friend that the worst part of saying goodbye is the moment where you could, if you wanted, turn around and just not go. Just stay. I described this particular feeling in an airport – when we were still able to accompany our loved ones to the gate – but you can think of it in any setting, physical or not. We encounter this moment all the time and yet we somehow make the choice, the reasonable choice, over and over.

The idea for this particular story came from not making the reasonable choice. Most of the story was cut due to the jam’s word-count limit, but I’ll tell it in longer form someday. For now, it says what I wanted it to say. It’s called “Departures” and I hope you enjoy it.

This Week

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Life

I missed you last week. Every time I sat down to write to you, my to-do list glared back, so I wrangled that instead.

The big event recently was FunkyPlaid’s reading weekend. Halfway through it I had the bittersweet realisation that it was our fourth and final time away with this great group of history scholars, sharing ideas and laughter. Although I remember being very nervous about going away with a bunch of strangers that first year, I got over it, and I know these moments will stand out in memory when I think back to this time in our lives.

Even knowing this was my last reading weekend, I struggled to stay present. We all talk about being present a lot, and yet so much of our modern lives are constructed around the opposite. I read this article and it hit me pretty hard. Sometimes when I allow myself to think about those last years in San Francisco, I realise just how not-present I was, and how many times I flaked, sometimes for health reasons but also sometimes because I overcommitted even when I suspected I wouldn’t have the energy or time to follow through.

The consequence is that now I miss all of those flaked-on friends desperately. I daydream about zapping myself back in time to un-cancel just once, whatever the plan was, it doesn’t matter.

So at the risk of lecturing you (because I’m lecturing myself just as much): Be present. Enjoy what you have while you have it. It goes by so fast.

Okay, that’s quite enough mushy talk.

I am halfway through the wellness programme, and feeling better in a general sense. My immune system has seemed stronger, but I haven’t figured out how to measure that other than “I don’t feel sick most of the time.” I’ll take it.

Misfit Shine activity points: 5269 and then 5533 out of 7000, compared to 5059 of two weeks ago. I started running again, so that helped. My running confidence is next to nil so I’m starting all over again with a 5K training regimen.

Work

FunkyPlaid and I are slowly cleaning the JDB1745 location data together, which consists of looking up each place-name mentioned in the transcribed records and figuring out which type of place it was (parish, county, town, etc.) before standardising it. It is about as thrilling a task as you might imagine. Good thing we make each other laugh.

I have a couple of weeks off from the weekend gig, which couldn’t have come at a better time as I am feeling pretty burned out.

Writing

Have you heard of the Magic Spreadsheet? I am vaguely allergic to those words together but I heard about it via HabitRPG — which I will write about at length someday — and gave it a shot. The premise is simple, building on the “streaks” concept of positive habit-building: write every day, and don’t break the chain.

The power of the Magic Spreadsheet is that there are many other writers tallying their word totals and streaks alongside yours. If you are at all competitive, or if you really dig shaming yourself, I recommend this method of motivation.

As of this moment, I have written 9,031 words in 2015. That number is about one-third of what I wanted it to be at this time. Instead of thinking, “Hey, I haven’t been writing as much lately,” I have the numbers staring me in the face. That’s powerful motivation right there.

Thank you, Magic Spreadsheet.

Food

I made chocolate pudding with chia seeds. It tasted like chocolate pudding with slimy seeds in it. But I shall not be deterred! I’m going to give it another shot. Chia seeds are good for me, after all. Also, I like eating bee pollen but I’m not sure I should be doing that. Some say it is a superfood but I cannot find the science that confirms this. It seems pretty mean to steal pollen from bees for no good reason.

Media

Halou, one of my fave bands ever, is playing in San Francisco this June. I can’t attend but I’ve got to get the word out.

I’ll spare you my top listened musical artists for the past two weeks because I have been listening to my workout mixes and nobody needs a list of Journey songs. (Except me.)

Still reading “The Bees” but now I admit I am reading much slower than I have to in order to keep the book from ending. The hive is such a wonderful escape, especially on cold and snowy days. FunkyPlaid also surprised me with Iain Banks’ book of poetry, which I dipped into delightedly just yesterday.

Recently, a friend reminded me how much I enjoyed Fallen London so I started playing it again, and am now even more curious to know if I would enjoy playing Sunless Sea. How can you not love a game with the tagline: “Lose your mind. Eat your crew. Die.”

FunkyPlaid and I finally finished watching season two of “Pushing Daisies”. I am glad that it’s over because I had started to grow weary of some of the characters, which was my problem with “Dead Like Me” as well and made me wonder if something about Bryan Fuller’s shows makes extended time with the characters difficult.

Remember “Night Court”? FunkyPlaid and I were chatting about it and decided to re-watch the very first episode. My word, it had a charm about it. Part of that has to do with some of the naivety of the plots: a judge who liked stage magic and unorthodox approaches to the law! A philandering husband almost shot and killed by his enraged wife but they work it out in the end! But part of its charm was how far off the rails I know that it went in later seasons. I don’t think I can watch all 193 episodes but I wouldn’t mind seeing a few here and there as a palate-cleanser.

I saw “Focus” in the theatre and enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Mostly it left me confused with which genre it wanted to be. Gerald McRaney was tops, though.

Ink o’ the Week

March’s Ink Drop from Goulet Pens brought me my new favourite ink: Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-Jaku. As soon as I saw it in the sample vial, I knew it would be a daily carry ink. Look at that shading!

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This Week

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Life

If I had one wish, it wouldn’t be a clever or altruistic one. I’d like to say that it would be, but I know myself better than that. If I had one wish, if that genie popped out of that Nutella jar and asked me what is the one thing I would want more than anything else in the whole wide world it would tumble out of my mouth before I could stop it because I have dreamed of it for decades.

My wish would be to own a train car.

Not just any train car: my train car would be magic because it could be hooked up to any train in the world, and it would be completely self-contained: it would have a library, hideaway bed, galley kitchen, observation loft, and of course an aquarium. Why an aquarium? I do not exactly know, but it was in the first designs of the train car when I was a little girl and hasn’t been revised out of them since.

I think about this magic train car, and my wish, every time I board a train. Sometimes while on the train I think I’ll doze off and wake up and be in my magic train car, and the sheer thought of it is enough to keep me smiling for hours. 

I hold onto bits of magic like this a little closer when weeks like this one happen, full of loss: friends losing parents, family members losing relatives, much-anticipated plans falling through. And then Sir Terry Pratchett died.

I’m so upset about this last part that I don’t even want to write about it. Some blog, eh? 

Amidst all this, there were some bright moments. The Writers’ Bloc meeting in Glasgow was fun and productive, and I met up with two other friends during the week as well.

Week 4 of 12-week wellness programme has not been going so great because I’m horrible at giving up all the foods I’m supposed to give up (hummus, I’m looking at you). However, I have successfully given up white potatoes, no small feat in a country basically made of chips.

Misfit Shine activity points: 5059 out of 7000, compared to 4208 of the week before. Improvement! 

O, and I chopped off more of my hair. Rather, I paid someone to do this in a fancy way. 

Work

JDB1745 required more than a bit of project management this week, which involved reworking our Trello project board and getting some stuff out of my brain and into Slack. Are you using Slack? I never want to work on a project again without it. Those endless email threads give me the wobbly dread feeling in my gut; I just know things are being missed and there isn’t any way to get them back. Centralising all of it makes me so happy. 

The weekend gig was smooth until literally the last two minutes of my last shift, which almost made me miss my bus but I hustled and caught it … except it wasn’t going anywhere because the bus had broken down. That’s the kind of week it has been.

Writing

I still haven’t managed to write the last book-club posts, but that’s because I’ve been scribbling notes on an idea I have for an ARG-ish thing. I also started a piece of flash fiction that is turning into a tribute to Terry Pratchett.

Food

I finally renamed the “Hobbies” section. I don’t even know what that word means anyway. But I do love food, and talking about it, so here we go.

Marks & Spencer in Waverley now offers gluten-free sandwiches! This means my train food is not limited to weird crawfish salad with chilli dressing! (Why is that so popular?) I had a chicken sandwich on the train to Glasgow and I was like a normal person and everything. Well, as normal as I get, anyway. Very exciting.

Union of Genius has become my favourite restaurant in Edinburgh. Their soups and salads are delicious (and many are gluten-free), but that isn’t why. They offer something I haven’t seen on a menu before: a “suspended” coffee which is a pre-purchased coffee for someone who cannot afford it. You just add this to your order, pay, and add one to the tally on a small chalkboard. They do this with soup, too.

I think this should be available everywhere, for anything.

Media

Still reading “The Bees”. I’m such a slow reader these days.

My top artists this week:

Season two of “Pushing Daisies” is not as enjoyable as season one. 

Ink o’ the Week

I’m sorry, but I can’t hear you over the sound of J. Herbin’s 1670 Stormy Grey in my Lamy 2000. What does that sound like, you ask? Nothing, silly! Ink doesn’t make noise. But it’s beautiful.

This Week

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Life

When I was a little girl, I had a dresser drawer that was filled with small things, buttons and badges and beads, rubber animals, seedpods, scraps of paper. Among my favourites in this drawer — if I was forced to choose — were these teardrop-shaped faceted beads with an iridescent sheen that looked like they belonged in a minuscule chandelier in tiny Versailles. 

It is a mystery to me how this week I found myself transported back to a memory when, as a child, I stood on tiptoes to peek inside this drawer and pick out one of these chandelier beads, hold it up, and watch the light dance around the room. 

It might have been a glimpse of a dangling earring, reminiscent of the sparkly treasure. It might have been that, in a week full of family upset and distant tragedy, something settled into place in the tangled nest of wires I call my brain. I don’t know what that something was yet, or I don’t have words for it, only the feeling of that moment with a piece of plastic and refracted winter light.

Snap out of it: we’ve got a status report to write.

Week 3 of 12-week wellness programme introduced me to oil pulling. (Please do not click that link if you are squeamish.) I have not noticed any health benefits so far but something that disgusting has got to have at least one health benefit. I am hoping for two, even. Also I tried to reduce my caffeine intake further but roasted yerba mate tastes like ashtray coffee. The best I’ve been doing is getting more sleep and drinking the hell out of my spinach and kale smoothies.

Misfit activity goals met on 0 of 7 days. Let this be the nadir of my exercise motivation.

My friend Julia and I have exactly opposite days off work but this week the stars aligned! She came over and we made lunch together (pan-seared pork loin, chickpea and dill salad) and then chatted the daylight away. That visit plus plenty of Skype time with family kept me in higher spirits than last week.

Work

The location authority structure is in place and location data — such as it is — has been loaded into JDB1745. Now comes a whole bunch of cleaning up transcription variants and other fun stuff. I am looking forward to this a little because I’m much better at focusing on a task like this than I am on straightforward data entry.

The weekend gig involved a special treat this week: I participated in a Wiki-edit-a-thon. My fellow editors and I worked on improving articles about several women in STEM careers. We spent a few hours researching these women’s biographies and CVs and ensuring that their Wikipedia entries were up-to-date and correct. The edit-a-thon inspired me to take a more active role in Wikipedia than I have in the past. Did you know that only 13% of Wikipedia editors are women

Writing

No blogging this week. (I haven’t forgotten those last book-club posts!) Mildly more fiction-writing, but I had a legitimate how I love writing moment this week, which felt wonderful. I love my lumpy, crummy drafts.

Hobbies

What even goes here? 

Media

Still savouring every page of “The Bees”

I mostly listened to podcasts this week and not music, but I did rediscover a mixtape (can we even still call them that?) that FunkyPlaid made when he left for Scotland back in 2003. Like that shiny bead, the songs yanked me back to before I had ever set foot in this country, wondering what she got that I don’t got and other self-absorbed, younger worries. Plus, FunkyPlaid just has great taste in music.

This American Life’s two-part series on policing in America is excellent.

So far as the tubular pursuits, FunkyPlaid and I finished our season one re-watch of “Pushing Daisies” and are on to viewing the second season for the first time. Exciting! 

I also watched the first two episodes of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” which is a must-watch if you enjoyed “30 Rock” or if you have a heart.

I’m saving the latest season of “House of Cards” for when I am not so twitchy because Frank Underwood makes me so tense.

Ink o’ the Week

High off the pink excitement from last week, I tried another from that Goulet Pens’ Ink DropDe Atramentis’ Red Roses. I should have used a wetter writer, because my Pelikan M205 isn’t showing all the lovely variation I’m sure it has. But it is pretty, a darker red than the Caran d’Ache Divine Pink, and scented like roses. The scent wears off quickly but it feels very fancy while I am writing with it.

This Week

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Life

This week started with a birthday bang and ended with a wistful whimper.

First of all, thank you for your birthday wishes. It made my day so much brighter to hear from you. I smiled all day long.

Well, almost all day long: that evening, poor FunkyPlaid got hit with a nasty flu. We spent the rest of the week huddled inside our chilly flat with bowls of homemade soup and purring cats. Not such a bad way to spend the time, except for the flu part. (He is feeling much better now.)

One of my birthday gifts from FunkyPlaid was a Misfit Shine activity and sleep monitor! I finally got to switch from Fitbit. I’ve used Fitbit devices since 2010 and all of them have had miserable battery life. The Shine uses a watch battery that should last 4-6 months at a time. It also tells time, and I can wear it many different ways instead of just in a crappy plastic wristband. So far, I’m pleased with it. Time to take it for a run and see how it does.

Week 2 of 12-week wellness programme: I am doing well with some aspects and not so well with others. I already have a lot of experience with paying attention to the various foods I shove into my face. However, I’m rubbish at group interaction because it’s all done through Facebook, plus most of my group is in a different timezone. But I have a peer coach now and we’re going to work together via email, so I feel okay about that. 

In general, I’m not feeling that great about my life right now. The birthday week was a good distraction, especially because I was more social than usual; I scheduled plenty of Skype sessions with faraway loved ones and had coffee with Babs at Artisan Roast. But now all that is done and I am again facing a bunch of unhappiness.

And Leonard Nimoy died.

Work

Not much progress happened with JDB1745 this week, as we rethought how to structure the location authority. I cannot wait until this part of it is finished, mostly because we have been doing authority work for what feels like forever and its payoff is so “of course, that’s what a database is supposed to do.” 

One thing I learned from the weekend gig this week: many of the “life hacking” feeds I read don’t mention the importance of being a good coworker. I think it is far more essential to be a good coworker than it is to achieve inbox zero every day.

Here’s my top three suggestions on how to be a good coworker:

  1. Leave your bad mood at home. I’m not talking about venting here and there; we’re all struggling with our lives outside of the workplace, and it’s good to be able to share your gripes with your friendly acquaintances. But the second we allow the residual negativity to impact how we do our work, it becomes everyone else’s problem too.
  2. Refrain from discussing your religion or your politics. Think of how you’d feel if someone started expounding the virtues of something you really, really disagree with — and you are trapped in an already awkward social situation like a workplace, where you’re not sure how to confront someone on that without it impacting your future working relationship. 
  3. Do something that will make a coworker’s life a little better. If you appreciate the job that someone does, tell them. If you know one of your coworkers likes a tidy workspace, tidy up a little bit of it. It doesn’t matter how small this is, as long as you show that you realise that our lives intersect in this place called work.

Writing

No blogging this week. What started as a birthday-day break ended up a week-long break. I have a few last book-club posts to write.

I took a bunch of handwritten notes for a short story in progress. Handwriting my drafts is working so much better for me, I’m kind of surprised that I forced myself to work against this for so long.

Hobbies

I had these once, I think.

Media

I finished reading “Turning Pro” and restarted “The Bees”

FunkyPlaid and I saw “Birdman” and I loved every moment of it.

Top artists I listened to this week:

  • Postmodern Jukebox, again, always.
  • Bo Burnham, and I’m still on the fence about him. He’s a bit frantic but I love the wordplay.
  • Kevin Hart, which won’t happen again. I made it through four tracks of his live comedy album before giving up.

FunkyPlaid and I gave up on watching “Dead Like Me” and switched to “Pushing Daisies” which is superior in every way.

Ink o’ the Week

I received five new ink samples from Goulet Pens’ Ink Drop, although I’ve only tried one so far, the lovely Caran d’Ache Divine Pink in my Esterbrook Dollar Pen. It’s fuchsia, in the best way.

The Lamy 2000 still has J. Herbin’s 1670 Stormy Grey in it. Still so good.

This Week

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Life

It has been cold in Edinburgh but not so cold that I can write that without apologising deeply to my family in the godforsaken tundra. Still, biting cold. Right now it is raining and the rain, I can say with authority because I was just standing in it waiting for a Sunday bus, is the kind of rain that wishes it were snow so it lands like little stinging hail-drops.

On Tuesday, FunkyPlaid and I went through to Glasgow to visit a friend and help her with some computer issues. The photo above is of her cat sitting on a silver platter atop an old Scrabble set. She was perfectly happy to sit up there (because it was near the radiator, I think) and the sight of it made me giggle.

Fitbit step-count: ~50,000 steps out of my 70,000 weekly goal. Not great, but better than last week.

I am supposed to be reducing caffeine and sugar while on the 12-week wellness programme I mentioned. I haven’t done well with this. My justification is, as usual, that I already have to give up croissants for the rest of my life and now I’m supposed to give up tea and Junior Mints? So I’m a big baby and I need to get that under control. But Thursday I met Kaite at Cuckoo’s Bakery and had a gluten-free banana and sea-salt caramel cupcake with hazelnut tea and I didn’t feel guilty, not even a little.

Okay, a little guilty.

Work

The JDB1745 naming authority work is complete! Well, as complete as things like this ever get, which means it is as polished as it can be for this phase and we really need to move on to location authority work next so, yeah.

As I was entering trial deposition data this week, I discovered yet another instance in which our data sets do not conform nicely to a template and require some creative thinking. This has to be at least 80% of database design for me: I think I’ve got a template that works, and then when I start entering data I see, nope, no, there’s more than a few instances in which this template just does not work.

As for the weekend gig … well, I wish the entire working world would get on Slack already because my work email inbox is a terrible place anymore.

However, I work with lovely people who wished me a happy birthday-eve. I am lucky and grateful.

Writing

I blogged the heck out of this week (thanks, book-club).

I also wrote a scene from a short story in progress, and am excited to write more. Part of this has to do with the book-club pick, and part has to do with me finally accepting the fact that I do my best creative thinking with pens and paper, not in front of the computer.

Hobbies

What are those again?

I did download SimCity BuildIt but after about an hour of gameplay I found its freemium bullshit unbearable: here, waste your time until interesting stuff happens, or pay real-world money to make it happen sooner. No thanks. Deleted.

Media

I haven’t read anything about my bees this week because it’s been all about “Turning Pro”. What? You haven’t heard me talk about this book one million times already? Right. 

CN Lester’s “What cis men could learn from trans masculinities” gave me a lot to think about this week. I often think about gender and identity and, especially now, the politics surrounding them. I try to write about these ideas with compassion and respect, and as I have so much more to learn I am glad that I can rely on CN’s intellect and insight to help me along the way.

Top artists I listened to this week:

  • Holy Other, a recommendation from Scott. Good electronica, great writing music for me.
  • Glass Animals, which we were listening to in the car on Tuesday. I had forgotten how much I liked it.
  • The Handsome Family, because John Hodgman sang “So Much Wine” on his podcast and I loved it so much I wanted to hear the original. (I liked Hodgman’s version better.)

Hey, I decided to watch the first episode of “Better Call Saul” because I heard mixed reviews about it. I enjoyed it, and I think I would have enjoyed it even if I hadn’t seen “Breaking Bad”. That’s saying something. 

Ink o’ the Week

Tweet o’ the Week has been replaced by Ink o’ the Week! I love fountain pens and ink and I have to have a place to express that. In the future, I’d like to post ink tests and reviews here; for now I will share my “daily carry” pens and what they are inked with:

  • Lamy 2000 - J. Herbin’s 1670 Stormy Grey, deep coal-grey with flecks of gold, a perfect Scottish wintry grey
  • Faber-Castell Loom Piano - Diamine Damson, the plummiest plum to ever plum

Turning Pro - Day 7

This is the seventh day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

Today I read from “My Own Moment of Turning Pro” to “The Professional Lives in the Present”. I don’t have much to say about this part of the book, because what I found most valuable was the reiteration of the qualities the professional possesses that Pressfield listed in “The War of Art”. (I won’t list them all, because I think that book is definitely worth a read, but my favourites include “The professional shows up every day” and “The professional does not take failure or success personally”.)

However, I think we can all have a feeling or two about this quote:

The amateur tweets. The pro works.” 

But I love Twitter!  … I know. I have been guilty of tweeting about cool things, or retweeting others’ cool things. And it’s not like I’m going to stop altogether, but it is easy to convince myself that I have made movement toward becoming a writer by retweeting other writers or tweeting about the act of writing. Even this meta-talk about writing is a bit amateurish on my part. (I’m choosing to forgive myself because all this reflection is in the name of turning pro.) Pressfield adds a nice juxtaposition at the end of this section: the professional is ruthless with himself and the professional has compassion for herself. Yes, we should not hesitate to murder our darlings, as the famous phrase goes, but we should also guard the joy that comes from creating. It is a difficult balance.

Turning Pro - Day 6

This is the sixth day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

Today I read from “The Amateur will be Ready Tomorrow” to “Rosanne Cash’s Dream” on my lunch break at work. And then I uncapped my fountain pen, cracked open a brand-new Rhodia dot-grid A5 notebook, and wrote a full page of fiction.

It’s not good writing, but it felt great.

I read the section called “The Tribe Doesn’t Give a Shit” with amusement. This is a part of the process, maybe the only part, that hasn’t bothered me much personally. I know fantastic people in this world and yet I have never once felt as if I am part of a group of people I need to impress. Pretty early on I internalised the knowledge that I should just do what I enjoy doing and not worry if I fit in anywhere. In Pressfield’s words:

“When we truly understand that the tribe doesn't give a damn, we're free. There is no tribe, and there never was. Our lives are entirely up to us.” 

So Pressfield keeps talking about going pro and I want to know what he means already. I want steps. I want something to act on. He senses this like magic and tells me, finally:

When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.

Fair enough. I’m pretty sure I know what this means. It means that when I sit down to write, I write. I don’t let the fear of never being good enough stop me. When I have an idea, I write it to completion, even if it goes off the rails and can never be rescued. I write. I finish. I do the work. I got this.

Turning Pro - Day 5

This is the fifth day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

Today I read from “Accidental Incapacitation” to “The Amateur Lives in the Past” and a few quotes stuck out to me. The first was:

“Fear is the primary color of the amateur's interior world. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking foolish, fear of under-achieving and fear of over-achieving, fear of poverty, fear of loneliness, fear of death.” 

Sure. It’s impossible not to relate to this quote. Pressfield goes on to state that the pro is just as afraid, so that’s good, because I don’t see losing my fear anytime soon. I read once that bravery isn’t the absence of fear, anyway. Or maybe that was just Peter Quinn in “Homeland”. #quinning I bet Quinn doesn’t even have a Facebook account, so the next quote doesn’t apply to him at all:

“The amateur fears solitude and silence because she needs to avoid, at all costs, the voice inside her head that would point her toward her calling and her destiny. So she seeks distraction. The amateur prizes shallowness and shuns depth. The culture of Twitter and Facebook is paradise for the amateur.” 

Well, yeah. The Internet is the ideal environment for the amateur. There is always a website or fifty, vying for one’s attention, constructed in such a way that the experience feels engaging even if it is comprised of a set of completely passive interactions. I also think that Twitter and Facebook can be powerful tools. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves: time spent on social media isn’t creative time. It can be constructive, but there’s a difference. I think that’s what Pressfield is getting at here. One more quote that struck me:

The amateur and the addict focus exclusively on the product and the payoff.” 

I agree with this, because I tend to get very caught up in what the result will be of what I am creating. “Where will I perform this? Where will I sell this?” This is not to say that I shouldn’t be savvy about markets or gigs, but rather that I have lost the excitement of creation for its own sake, focusing instead on its packaging and the eventual (I hope) reward.

Turning Pro - Days 3 & 4

This is the third and fourth day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

I’m playing a bit of catch-up today and reviewing the sections “The Addict As Dramatic Hero” through the end of Book One. Unfortunately, I had a tough time relating to Pressfield in this section of the book. Although I enjoyed reading about his time picking apples in Washington state, and living all alone in a cabin with just a cat and a typewriter, I haven’t had a life like that at all. Moreover, I don’t think that creative professions require itinerant lifestyles to succeed. I see how it could be helpful not to be bogged down with the routine of a 9-to-5 job, but I don’t think it’s necessary. However, an idea I do agree with is that it is easier to break the cycle of addiction when one is freed from a routine that supports it.

Later on in the book, I came across a quote that resonated deeply with me:

"All addictions share, among others, two primary qualities.
  1. They embody repetition without progress.
  2. They produce incapacity as a payoff.” 

Pressfield goes on to mention some specific addictions, none of them surprising, especially one we’re all familiar with these days: distraction. We talk about how we just can’t stop checking Facebook or ponder why we know who the Kardashians are, but even these superficial protestations belie our priorities. For me, checking Facebook is the embodiment of the phrase “repetition without progress”. This section ends with some musing over the pain of being human, and again Pressfield’s wording gives me some trouble because I don’t think of the struggle of life in terms of an “upper realm” that I cannot reach, not exactly. Or maybe I am thinking about it this way without this particular Platonic phrasing, because when I write, I do glimpse something else, something Other, that exists outside my paltry experience of reality. His words left me wanting a more practical metaphor, but perhaps I should try seeing it his way for a little while. I did like this quote: 

The addict seeks to escape the pain of being human in one of two ways — by transcending it or by anesthetizing it…. The artist takes a different tack. She tries to reach the upper realm not by chemicals but by labor and love.” 

Labour and love. Now these words I like.

Turning Pro - Day 2

This is the second day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

I’m playing a bit of catch-up here because the rest of the book-club will be embarking on their Day 3 posts today. For Day 2 I read from “Three Cheers for the Amateur Life” to “Addiction and Shadow Careers” and the following quotes stood out to me:

"The addict is the amateur; the artist is the professional.” 

OK, this is the first point at which Pressfield’s language makes me uncomfortable. That might not be a bad thing, if it is indicating an idea that resonates negatively. But the idea of being an “addict” is one that is hard to take for me personally. It’s not that I’ve been addicted to things before, because I certainly have, but thinking of myself as an addict triggers a whole bunch of negative stereotypes I have about what an addict is. Let’s go with Pressfield a moment here as he elaborates:

“Both addict and artist are dealing with the same material, which is the pain of being human and the struggle against self-sabotage. But the addict/amateur and the artist/professional deal with these elements in fundamentally different ways.”

This idea of self-sabotage dovetails nicely with a Zen Habits blog post I recently read about Savor Discipline. Leo Babauta addresses how the present self wants what it wants regardless of how it impacts the future self. He writes about the idea of merging the two interests, just as you would if you and your friend were making a decision on where to go for lunch. It wouldn’t always be one person’s choice; the two of you would take turns. Or you might merge your interests to come up with a third option that both would like. The present self and future self merge interests to find something they both can savour in the present moment. (I’m not doing this justice, so please read the post for yourself. Read the whole blog, while you’re at it! It’s wonderful.) So how does this tie in with what I think Pressfield is saying? Well, here’s my practical example: I have lots of data-entry ahead of me today. I also have errands to run, chores to do, words to write, you know the rest. Future-Halsted would really like it if I just did all that work right now so she could kick back and do nothing later, but that would leave me irritated and frustrated. Present-Halsted just wants to curl up with a book and a cat or two, but that would result in nothing getting done. So I’ve found a third option: writing this post. I’m knocking something off my to-do list while taking a moment to reflect on a book I’m reading, and exercising my nonfiction skills a bit too. I’ve found something to savour in the moment instead of indulging my self-sabotaging ways. Now I can make peace with Pressfield’s “addict” nomenclature because I get it: I have been an addict. I have been addicted to the concept of productivity, with all of its bells and whistles and to-do list apps. When I’m ticking off boxes, I get something like a buzz — look at all I’ve done today! — but those boxes can be for utterly inconsequential things, and at the end of it, when I’ve spent all of my energy ticking boxes and left nothing for myself, I can only see the hollow spaces of what I haven’t yet accomplished.

Turning Pro - Day 1

So there’s this app called Desk that I am using for writing and posting these very words and when I went to its support site to ask a question I discovered a community — not a metaphorical one, but an actual community of people talking about things that weren’t all support-related. I am sure this happens in other support communities but this was the first time I had run across one so … open? I felt right at home and I started reading some threads.

One thread was about starting a digital book-club to read and discuss Steven Pressfield’s book “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” (Open Library), which I had been curious about but never read. My writing partner Matt gave me a copy of Pressfield’s “The War of Art” years ago and I absolutely loved it. I decided to give the digital book-club a shot.

Day 1 we read the introduction through the “My Shadow Career” chapter (if you can call it that, as the sections are very brief in this book). My favourite quotes from this section:

“The thesis of this book is that what ails you and me has nothing to do with being sick or being wrong. What ails us is that we are living our lives as amateurs.” 

This reminded me of a conversation that I keep having with the people I know who are professional writers. I’m quick to draw a line between us and say that they’re better writers, and often their rejoinder is that it isn’t about better. There is a fundamental commitment that these people have made to themselves, and I haven’t done it. Yet. Another quote:

“Are you pursuing a shadow career? Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan studies because you're afraid to write the tragedies and comedies that you know you have inside you?” 

It’s hard to even formulate a response to this because the metaphor is so unbelievably cutting: I mean, I became a librarian. I do love library work, and I deeply believe in libraries, but there it is. I spend my days in rooms filled with books that other people have written, never believing that I, too, could write a book. This book-club is going to be a doozy for me.

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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.