“Snow!” screamed the child in the street. I glanced out at our garden and saw the wet flakes glopping down. They wouldn’t stick. They didn’t last. Magical all the same.
I’ve fancied myself a minimalist before, although you wouldn’t know it for all the things I have accumulated, spread out across continents. Objects loom larger in memory, just like the they do in the mirror’s warning, pulsing with intention: a small leather notebook in a basement, a grandfather clock in a storage unit, a doll-house in an attic.
Some books reached escape velocity today, trajectories burning off into used bookstores. My face was wet before the snow began; I had sold off my children to the perennially unimpressed. So they’re no longer mine, and not yet someone else’s. Frozen above, puddles below, and something magical and misunderstood in between.
Writing from: a drowsy lounge in Edinburgh. Listening to: “The Glass Shelter and the View” by Seas of Years.
Yesterday I culled 57 books from my personal library. I’m deep in the throes of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying” and applying her principles as best I can. Kondo writes that she keeps only about 30 books in her collection at any one time, but later on in the book she says that “you need to create your own tidying method with your own standards.” So my own standards include a few more than 30 books, but not the ridiculous number I’ve been hoarding for years.
I brought a number of unread books to Scotland because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get them through the public library system. That happened to be good judgement on my part … if I had made more time for reading and if I hadn’t accumulated any additional volumes. 2016 will be a year of catching up on my to-read pile.
FunkyPlaid furrowed his brow and made unhappy noises at the burgeoning stacks of books I will sell or donate, but he too is working on winnowing before our migration. Maybe not his books, though. That might be a step too far.
Tell me about a book you own that you’d never, ever give away.
“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.
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?
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.
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.
The “Hamilton” musical soundtrack has been on endless repeat this month. Not much else.
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.
FunkyPlaid got me hooked on Dungeon Boss, a battle game with cute retro graphics.
“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.
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.
Photo credit: Autumn arrived at my home in Second Life. I sure do love fall foliage, even the kind on virtual trees.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Hector and the Search for Happiness”: ★★½.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Since the end of March I’ve read some good books, fiction unless otherwise specified:
And that leaves me at 11 books this year. I will have to seriously hustle to make my goal of 50.
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:
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):
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.
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.
Photo credit: my Instagram.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- They embody repetition without progress.
- 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.
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.
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.
One of the best presents in the world is an autographed copy of a book. I was reminded of this just last week. My friend V and I Skype regularly and the last time I was telling her that I’m not in the best mental health lately. No stranger to dips in mental health, I have lots of coping mechanisms, and one of them is re-reading a collection of Ray Bradbury’s essays called Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity. I have a cheap Bantam paperback that I dog-ear and mark up to my heart’s content, and it is cathartic, this reading and mangling of pages, over and over again. She wrote the title down because she was feeling a bit out-of-sorts as well, having just moved to a new home for a new job and learning to establish a new social circle and the rest.
So last week we had an unexpected parcel delivered, which is a strange occurrence because on the rare occasions we do receive parcels we are expecting their arrival. But inside this parcel addressed to me was a copy of the Bradbury collection. It was a nicer edition than my own and in excellent condition, but I was perplexed: I thought certainly someone I had recommended this book to had made a mistake and accidentally had it shipped to me instead of themselves. Then I opened it to the title page: Ray Bradbury’s autograph, which made me gasp, and dated 6/26/1996. 1996 was the year I left everything I knew and moved to Alabama for a guy I met online, a significant pivot-point in my development as a person and as a writer. V didn’t know that about the date, I’m sure, but she opened the door for that lovely coincidence.
I’m struggling this year to find gifts of significance instead of convenience for the people closest to me, and I had forgotten the power of an autographed book until now, gripping an old paperback to my heart with tears filling my eyes.
Writing from: a very chilly lounge, as the fireplace is currently broken. Listening to: SomaFM Christmas Lounge. Yes, it’s Holidailies time once more, which means with any luck you’ll be hearing from me every day this month.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
While I appreciated the tone of Rubin’s writing, the depth of her research on the topic of happiness, and the overall organisation of the project, I found the read itself to be a slog. This is likely because I was already familiar with (and a little tired of) the premise through undertaking my own self-improvement projects. My friend Mako’s review of the book was so glowing that I wanted to read the book to find my excitement for self-improvement again. The truth is that whereas Rubin’s book would have been an exciting, inspiring read a year ago, I’m now the wrong audience for it. And I’m okay with that.
One quote did resonate with me: “All this thinking about fun made me realize that I had to make time for it. Too often, I’d give up fun in order to work….In fact, though, turning from one chore to another just made me feel trapped and drained….Fun is energizing.” It sure is.
So I’m drifting on a sea of sadness and the only way I know how to get out of it is to shove this “too busy for [thing I like to do]” stupidity off the raft.
Last year I didn’t read many books or see many films, so this year I’m aiming to consume 50 of each. Throw your favourites at me in the comments.
And today I decided to add another goal onto that: I want 50 rejection letters for my writing. I’d rather get 50 acceptances, of course, but rejection means I’m submitting stories which means I’m writing stories which means I’m doing what I love. I’ll be tallying it up on my fiction page if you want to follow along.
Yesterday I finished the first draft of my story for Bloc’s show in the Edinburgh International Science Festival. As per usual, my first idea completely morphed into something else. It’s become a pattern: the first idea is the cocoon that turns into the butterfly. Or, in my case, the slipstream moth.
My Bloc pal Bram a/k/a Texture is always creating interesting, evocative stuff. He announced his new poetry video a few weeks ago but I just made the mental space to sit down and appreciate it. I was mesmerised. Tell me what you think. And please share it if you enjoy it.
My Beta Phi Mu bookmark arrived in the post today, making me an official member of the international library and information studies honour society. A friend said I should be able to show this at bookstores to get access to their secret stash.
For now, I’ll carry it around just in case.
Glad No Matter What: Transforming Loss and Change into Gift and Opportunity by SARK
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was my first exposure to SARK’s writing, aside from her posters. It was a gift from a former co-worker as I left my job at the San Francisco Public Library. At the time, I didn’t feel very gracious about the transition, and so it has taken me a while to finish reading this.
“Glad No Matter What” is primarily a book about the type of loss and change that surrounds the death of a loved one, but I could apply some of it to the loss and change I am currently experiencing as I transition to my new home. SARK’s unbridled enthusiasm and good nature bursts from every page, and it is difficult not to be cheered by her multicolored scrawls.
My favorite portion of her book was about her “emotional GPS” and how she notices negative thought patterns and reactions as she is having them, then tells herself “recalculating” as she finds a new “emotional route”. I chuckled over this, and then gave it some thought. Sometimes I feel very guilty about my negative responses to things while feeling helpless to change them. But with the emotional GPS idea, I can recalculate negative reactions into less negative responses.
I admit to skimming over some parts that were simply too spiritual for my tastes, but I remain an admirer of SARK as a creative force and a positive influence in a cynical world.
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We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I really do not know what to write about this book. On the one hand, it is a known quantity; no one starts reading it without knowing, at least in the most general sense, what it is about. On the other, it answers none of the questions the reader will have about its horrific central narrative.
Shriver is, undoubtedly, a talented writer. The story made me feel ambivalence for every single character introduced, no small feat considering how easy it would be to create a maudlin mother or monstrous son. No, in fact, every single person involved has realistic foibles, making the absence of the great “why” at the end all the more appalling.
It could happen to any one of us, here in the real world. And it has. And I’m not sure I needed to read a book about that.
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The Dewey Decimal System: A Novel by Nathan Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It may be weird to say that I am a fan of dystopian near-future settings. I have a morbid fascination with bleak, sparse landscapes and crumbling infrastructure; I remain hopeful that I will never have to live in such a world, but constantly wonder what type of person I would be if I survived in one.
In “The Dewey Decimal System”, Larson creates an instantly engaging survivor as a protagonist, and a compelling city in ruins around him. Larson’s staccato, fragmented style makes this a quick and brutal read with plenty of physical and emotional carnage. I only wished for more scenes in the New York Public Library, yearning for more details of this post-apocalyptic information age that seems entirely devoid of the ‘net.
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Author and publisher Carmen Callil has withdrawn from the judging panel of the Man Booker International prize over its decision to honour Philip Roth with the £60,000 award. Dismissing the Pulitzer prize-winning author, Callil said that ‘he goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe’.
Judge withdraws over Philip Roth’s Booker win | Books | guardian.co.uk
Bossypants by Tina Fey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Because I am not up on these things, even though I really should be, I had no idea that Tina Fey had written a book. If I had, I would have pre-pre-ordered it as those of us in the librarian cabal are able to do. What? That’s not a thing? I have been lied to! Anyway, I stumbled across the disturbing cover of her not-quite-memoir "Bossypants" three seconds after stepping into a local bookstore, and even though I am trying very (kind of) hard not to buy any new books, I bought it.
And I devoured it in less than 24 hours.
"Bossypants" is a fast, sparkling read, with plenty of LLOLL (legitimate laugh-out-loud in the library) moments. Fey is funny and smart, which everyone already knew, and also eloquent and gracious, which you probably already knew because you are up on aforementioned things while I am not. A review of this book should probably mention that she addresses sexism in comedy and television and everywhere else, but I am allergic to saying things like "so-and-so is a feminist" because she happens to write things that are true.
My favorite quote from the book is: "It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good." Since I am arrogant, I can state with authority that I liked this book, thus it is empirically good.
From the Am Law Daily:
“The [amended settlement agreement] would grant Google control over the digital commercialization of millions of books, including orphan books and other unclaimed works,” Judge Chin wrote. “And it would do so even though Google engaged in wholesale, blatant copying, without first obtaining copyright permissions.”(via FunkyPlaid)
George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series proceeds, finally, with a hard publication date of 12 July 2011.
Nine hundred pages? Let’s do this.
The children’s book “Goodnight Moon” reimagined in only the most wonderful of ways. Thanks, Julia Yu. And thanks, MetaFilter.