January 22nd, 2017

Now in book news

So Much Love is still 7 weeks and 2 days from being available, but little things are happening and it is all very exciting/unnerving. Like
–if you would like to win a copy, you can enter to do so on Goodreads. There’s 50 (!) copies available and the contest closes on February 16. Good luck!
–if you would like to know more about the writing process/me writing in general, you could read my interview with Koom Kankesan at Open Book. Koom and I went to school together in 1999 (!) and have stayed in touch since, and both published books. It’s been a wild ride!
–if you want to read a list of amazing upcoming books that includes mine, you could read 49th Shelf’s Spring Fiction Preview. There is so much goodness upcoming (my husband Mark Sampson also has a book on the list called The Slip. It is very good!)

Onwards!

January 3rd, 2017

A tiny bit of buzz!

While I wait patiently for the 1000 things to come rolling in (hint!) I can tell you about the tiny bits of buzz that are floating around regarding So Much Love, a novel that will be out and available in actual stores to actual readers in just over two months. Terrifying.

I mean great, very exciting, it is just that I am a little nervous. Anyway! There is a print review in the most recent issue (winter) of Maisonneuve, which I subscribe to and was reading on the treadmill when all of the sudden, there was my book cover! I was NOT expecting that three months before publication. It’s just a couple hundred words and mainly summary–I’ve squinted at it for a long time and can’t be certain if the reviewer liked it or not but it is still very nice to be mentioned! The review isn’t online, but if you read it in print, please let me know what you think.

Also! I did a short interview with the wondrous Kerry Clare, with whom I’d be happy to chat for no reason, but this was actually for a little piece in University of Toronto Magazine, which is lovely.

And that, at two months and 11 days to publication, is what’s going on. Kind of lovely, really!

February 3rd, 2016

Name games

I have very strong feelings about names, but they are hard to quickly and easily define to people. It’s not that I don’t have rules, it’s just that those rules are not often comprehensible to others. Also, what does it matter? It matters that I am writing a novel with a lot of names in it, so how much sense the names make could potentially drive a reader nuts.

You get a name at birth and that is always your name–unless you change your name, but that strikes me as incredibly mind-boggling. I mean do it if that’s your jam, I don’t think it’s wrong or bad to change your name, I just don’t understand how anyone copes with, for a certain number of years being one name, and then later another.

This bafflement on my part is in turn baffling to others who know me well, because for the first 27 years of my life I went by “Becky” and then switched over to “Rebecca” after that. To me it makes sense because my name was actually always Rebecca, Becky just being a nickname for Rebecca. It was just that no one called me that–parents, other family, high-school, university friends, teachers, everyone called me Becky but I knew myself to be Becky or Rebecca interchangably and I did not find it a major switch to start introducing myself formally as Rebecca. I felt I was old enough to carry the three syllables, and I wanted less dissonance between my written and spoken worlds (I have almost always written under Rebecca). Many people could. not. deal with this change, and that also makes sense to me–see below–so I stopped asking family and friends who had known me prior to age 27 to call me Rebecca. So now all those folks know me as Becky, and everyone I’ve met since–grad-school friends, work friends, people in the writing community, and notably my husband and everyone he’s introduced me to–call me Rebecca. This makes perfect sense to me, no confusion at all, the way you wouldn’t be confused if someone pointed at a piece of furniture you call the couch and said, “Want to sit on the sofa?” Rebecca and Becky are synonyms, synonyms for me.

I am extremely respectful about given names and nicknames, and I am always careful to call someone exactly what they introduce themselves as. I would never presume the privilege of using a nickname, even though I love nicknames, unless I were invited to do so. This also causes some confusion, as the various Jennifers I work with are all occasionally referred to as Jen. I never did that, because I wasn’t invited to–I wouldn’t be happy if someone went rogue and called me, say, Bek–and they all thought it was weird. The Jennifers actually got together and asked me to start using Jen, which is also weird but I feel more comfortable doing so now. Basically, I guess I think, one’s name is one’s own–nicknames are at the owner’s discretion.

Although if you ask me to call you by a nickname, or ask me to GIVE you a nickname, I will be very happy to oblige. Something that makes me happy is that way back in the 90s, my friend Karen complained that she didn’t like any of the nicknames available to Karens, and I thought for a while and suggested “(W)ren”–the second half of her name, and also she is small and birdlike. She still uses it! I got the same complaint from an old workmate named Taylor and suggested Lori, which she liked but I don’t know if she still uses.

So, I’m down with nicknames. HOWEVER, it blows my mind when someone changes their name to a completely other thing that has no relationship to the original name. How I see these two categories of change as so different I have no idea, but there you have it! Seriously, when people change their names at marriage (the reason most of those I know who have changed it did so) it takes me YEARS to get it straight. There are people who have been married over a decade that I refer to occasionally by their maiden names (is sexist terminology? I feel like yes.) I mean no disrespect, I’m onboard with the idea of the name-change, it’s just that I can’t process it properly.

One of the great things about being a writer of fiction is that I have access to and control over tonnes of names–which is good, because my husband would never let me have enough cats to use all the names I like. I don’t have a science to how I name characters, though if you read a bunch of my work you can notice certain preference areas. I once got a baby name book with the idea that I would read through it and find new kinds of names for my characters but that did not pan out at all. Usually I just think about a character until a good name pops into my head and that’s that. I almost never change a character’s name once I’ve decided on it, which is why in my last book there’s a not-so-great fellow with the same name as my husband. Sorry, Mark-the-husband, Mark-the-character showed up first and I just couldn’t unname him.

And while I’m listing my naming oddities, I should mention that I can’t use generic terms of endearment–my husband and I call each other by the names on our birth certificates. I can’t explain this anymore than I can the rest of it–maybe it has something to do with how if anyone can be “baby” or “sweetie” than perhaps no one is? And this rule does not extend to the cats, to whom I regularly refer as “sugar plums.”

I also do weird things with nicknames in fiction–many’s the editor who has come back to me with a “correction” that a character is flipflopping between or among names. In truth, it’s that someone could be referred to by different nicknames by different people, but that’s a pretty hollow truth if no one understands and just thinks the story is sloppy. So I wind up changing it–in my forthcoming book, Julianna is almost exclusively called that, and I took out most of the use of Juli and Jules. This is sad to me, but it is important not to baffle the reader with my personal quirks.

Similarly, my editor pointed out that two characters have very similar names and readers might get confused–could one change? My instinct was “absolutely not.” It’s one thing to use a nickname or not and it’s another to give someone a name he never had before!!! Despite the fact that it’s an easy change to a minor character, I am a fragile point with the manuscript and I honestly didn’t think I could look at it with the wrong name in there.

I was being, as you’ve no doubt been thinking, an asshole, so instead of stating the above, I said I was going to leave the old (right!) name in place until the last minute before I hand off the manuscript–then I’ll do a global search-and-replace with a new, yet-to-be-determined name, and send off the ms without looking at it again. Which is clearly a batshit thing to do, but shouldn’t inconvenience anyone but possibly me, which is fine.

Next time you think an artistic type person is being eccentric just for the sake of it, please rest assure, I’m annoyed by me as anyone else. But I’ve had this quirk all my life and at the end of an exhausting edit is just not the time to rehabilitate it. So on we go–

Love,
Rebecca (Becky)

December 27th, 2015

For 2016

I hope everyone had a very merry everything this holiday season, and continues to do so. Mine has been and hopefully will continue being wonderful, but I’m not sure a recap of the nice things I’ve been doing, seeing, and eating would be that interesting. Instead, I’m in the mood to look forward to 2016. 2015 was a pleasant year in many ways, and certainly nothing really bad happened to me personally, but I found it to be a challenging 365 days in large and small ways. So I’m anxious to get on to the new one, which, like an unwritten book, has not had anything go wrong in it yet. Here are some things I resolve to do to keep making 2016 a good year even once it has gotten started.

  1. Finish novel–really finish, not like the other times I’ve resolved this when it was “finish a draft” or “finish submission draft.” This time it is “finish and submit to copyedit” finish–world without end finish. Not included in 2016 goals only because it’ll be happening in January 2017 is “publish novel.”
  2. Clean out spice cupboard. Find a way to store spices that is not a giant mess for first time in life. Cannot be that hard.
  3. Wear every piece of jewellery I own at least once, out in public. This is an adapted version of KonMari, I guess. I got a new jewellery box for Christmas and in transferring everything over from the old one, found I had a tonne of stuff I never wear and indeed have forgotten about. I’m inclined to keep it all because most of it was gifts, but if I find I can’t even get through a single public appearance with the item due to physical discomfort or embarrassment at the item’s inappropriateness for my look, I think I’ll have an easier time parting with it.
  4. No eating after dinner is over.
  5. Stop being so fussed about what people I might never see again think of me. Focus on being a better friend to people who are genuine friends.
  6. Start new novel. Have clearer structure and better plan than first novel from the get-go, so this one does not turn into another six-year ordeal.
  7. Experiment with only one social outing per week for month of January. See if it makes me more productive and happier, or insane.
  8. Use migraine tracker properly, or else find better migraine tracker.
  9. Complete marathon critical essay and edit into something publishable. Essay is currently less than a third finished, 10 000 words long, and largely about my personal issues.
  10. Train cat to ring bell on command.

June 2nd, 2015

Things I feel awkward about

Oh, they are many and legion, the things I feel awkward about. In this case, I am not referring to social awkwardness, although those things are many and legion, too. Today I want to talk about experiences that weren’t awesome or terrible and that maybe I still haven’t fully processed–I just don’t feel exactly one thing about them and that is…awkward. These were all going to be separate blog posts and then I realized a) I won’t write that many blog posts in the next few weeks, and after a few weeks these topics will all feel irrelevant and b) they fit together this tidy theme. And so…things that made me feel awkward lately…

Career Day I usually agree to do just about whatever I’m asked if it gets me an opportunity to speak to young people. I’m at an age where teenagers and early twentysomethings won’t speak to me voluntarily at a party or even at work, but all my friends still have only little kids, so they can’t help me much with the zeitgeist (though they do help me get to swing on swings without anyone giving me weird looks). So I did a career day at UofT and it was definitely an awkward experience. I was on a panel on working in education, which was a bit weird as everyone else taught in some format. Youth today is much for savvy than I was in my uni years, and much more goal oriented. In part, they have to be–the job market it is tougher now than in 2001 when I graduated, and it was plenty tough then. I saw a lot of fear in the eyes of the people at the seminar, and I wanted to help them but I wasn’t sure how. One way they very much were like me in my youth is that they couldn’t really process the idea of jobs they hadn’t heard of before–teachers made sense to them, along with firemen and doctors and crossing guards, I’m sure. For those not playing along at home, I am a production project manager and that most definitely did not make sense to anyone there–I thought I explained pretty succinctly (and my job isn’t rocket surgery, as they say, though it’s pretty interesting/challenging) but most of the young folk were looking right through me. Hell, maybe they knew exactly what i was talking about, but just didn’t want any part of it. I did get a sense of the zeitgist (panic!) but other than that the day was kind of sad.

Klout Scores I had the opportunity to go to a seminar on how to land a book contract, and even thought I actually already have a book contract (and I can’t say enough hoorays about that) I went–it’s always good to know more about the business, and I wasn’t doing anything else. It turns out I learned a tonne, because the author who was speaking has an American agent and submitted her book to only American houses. It is VERY different over there. (Also, I should point out that the speaker, Rachel McMillan was so incredibly charming and well-spoken that it was worth the hour just to listen to her, and I will defo buy her book when it comes out!)

Anyway, to publish in the States is a very different thing, it seems, than publishing in Canada, and one of the differences is how many things other than an author you need to be. Skilled marketer and respected influencer are two; the presentation touched on Klout scores, which are a measure of how known/respected/influential we are on the inter webs. All of us, even if you don’t register for Klout or look into it, you are still out there, with our certain amount of influence in the world.

I’m really into quantifying stuff so even though I’d like to pretend I don’t care about Klout scores, of course I set off immediately to find mine out. It was a 10/100, which I felt sort of bad about but resigned to, but it turned out it took a few days for the data to feed into the system–now I’m a 52. On the one hand, that’s a bare pass; on the other, Rachel said influence begins at 35. I don’t even know if telling you this is appropriate in polite company–is this like revealing my weight?

Christina Kelly Has a Blog It’s called Fallen Princess and I love it even though it makes me squirm. If you’re not familiar with this writer, she was one of my heroes back in the early 1990s when she wrote for Sassy. When Sassy, the best and weirdest teen-girl magazine I’d encountered crashed and burned, I was already 16 and basically ready to leave the teen-girl mag world behind and actually, gendered magazines full stop, so I missed out on the rest of Kelly’s career there–she went on to Jane, YM, Elle Girl…and apparently did good work at all. For some reason, even though the Sassy writers put a lot of their personalities into their writing and I loved them all, I didn’t attempt to find out where they went or what they did next. Actually, I do know why that is, if I’m honest–I read them as fictional characters, and when Sassy ended, the novel I was reading about these people ended.

At that point in my life, the first person was verboten in anything but novels–everything for school or even the student paper or the yearbook was supposed to be this weird unbiased unreferenced speaker. The first glimpse I got of self-referential journalism and criticism–the world that would become the blogosphere–is via Sassy. And Rose-coloured is actually where you can hear the greatest influence of that kind of writing; if you follow the link above to Fallen Princess, you’ll hear a voice that echos distinctly around here.

Christina Kelly was the tougher, scarier one at Sassy–known for her sarcasm and being in a rock band. I thought she was an amazing super-adult, and I dreamed of having her life while simultaneously knowing I’m not cut out for a rock-and-roll lifestyle and I don’t understand sarcasm. And honestly, I’ve done a lot of amazing things in my failed attempt to become the person I imagined CK to be in 1994 (that’s a tough sentence to get right, but I think I got it), so the result was excellent.

But now, having stumbled upon this blog, I’m startled to discover that the target has shifted and Kelly, while still a charmingly brusque and funny writer, is also a suburban full-time mom, Girl Guide leader and yoga-doer. She still sounds like an excellent person to meet for dinner, but I no longer wish to be her. Maybe I’m just older and no longer wish to be anyone other than myself (which is true) but also I think this is a good lesson that people change and life changes and you’re not always on the road you think you are on. Or something.

I don’t really have an issue with the suburbs or the yoga or the Girl Guides, but I’m distinctly uncomfortable with the regularly-bubbling-to-the-surface subtext of the blog, which is that it is f–king hard to be a writer. I found this Non writer post kind of heartbreaking, because it is such a well written (right until it trails off onto another topic, but such is the license of blogs) meditation on not writing. But the post I Am Actually an Actual Feminist Housewife is probably the best post on the blog (and yes, when I found out Fallen Princess existed, I did go back to the first post and read it straight through like a novel–I often do that. Maybe I sort of wish everything was a novel.) It’s so complicated and honest and when you finish reading it, there’s no designated response, no obvious, “right on!” or “what you should have done” or anything–you just need to think about it.

So the awkward thing is that I’d like CK to write more for publication so I could read it, but I also think I’m happy for her that she’s comfortable making the choice not to…for now.

February 27th, 2015

Why Life Is Hard for Extroverts Too

This started out as a joke post, parodying those insufferable articles about how introverts are actually must smarter, deeper, kinder, and more sensitive than extroverts. In trying to equalize our perceptions of intros and extros, the articles nearly always go too far and suggest that there’s really only worthwhile kind of human.

I don’t honestly even believe that there’s some kind of binary among humans into these two types. We all have tendencies in both directions and it’s a spectrum. And I don’t think the introverts get all that squashed in society, though maybe because I’m in the writing and editing field my perceptions are skewed–there’s a lot of quiet types here. And that’s also why I sometimes stand out as a bit more talky than some of my colleagues. In many context, I don’t think I’d qualify as an extrovert, but in the word mines, I do. Of course, I also have friends who are much much more social than I am. As I say, a spectrum.

My extroverted feelings get hurt by those stupid articles above–I’m not callous, superficial, or inane, as they always seem to suggest. At least, I don’t think I am. So I started writing this rebuttal in fun, but I think it’s kind of true, too…

Why life is hard for extroverts too…

1) I’m often lonely. I know, I know–introverted people often feel overwhelmed by being with people and need time alone. I actually feel that way pretty often myself. But the thing about wanting to be alone is, it’s relatively easy to achieve. You can go home or take a walk or go stand in the broom closet if you have to. It’s much harder when you’re by yourself and wish you weren’t. Sometimes none of your friends are available to hang out. Sometimes your husband is sleeping and has told you to quit waking him up. Sometimes no one’s online. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

2) I get rejected a lot. One of my nicer qualities, so I’m told, is I see everyone I meet as a potential new friend. The downside of this is that many people do not want to be my friend. That’s fair, but I can’t help taking it personally. If I compliment a cashier on her nail polish or blouse and she ignores me, I feel bad even though I know intellectually that this relationship is not important to my well being. Worse, people in my actual social circle sometimes don’t really want to spend a lot of time with me. When I first moved to Toronto, I did not understand that “We should get a coffee/drinks/lunch sometime” was a phrase of general approbation, and did not actually mean anything. I was forever pulling out my date book and trying to make plans. Some of those interactions actually blossomed beautifully, but some were very very awkward. I’m always the friend who is still inviting you to parties long after you’ve given up authentic-sounding excuses and started saying things like, “I think I’m going to be really tired that night.”

3) My career path does not really suit extroversion. I write books, as I may have mentioned here, and that is a task that it’s very hard to make collaborative. I’ve tried, with writing groups, reading groups, uber-involved editors, and a husband who takes an interest in my work, but sometimes I do have to sit and my office and work and there’s no one else there… All alone! I also work on books during the day, and though there’s some more interaction to that now that I’m a project manager, I’m still just at my desk a lot of hours of the day. And yet these are the things I want to do–I wouldn’t have my career any other way! I just wish a bunch of people could come hang out at my desk with me, maybe occasionally make an interesting comment about something. I’ve actually started shunning my lovely office to work in the living room with my husband and cats. Bad use of real estate, but much more comforting.

4) It’s really easy to hurt my feelings. It’s interesting that the stereotype of an extrovert is someone who is shallow and callous and not really interested in what you have to say. Since I’m so invested in other people, doesn’t it make sense that I’m invested in what they think about me? Workplace sniping, subway grumbling, arguments with close friends–they all sting, although of course to different degrees. And I’m actually paying really close attention. I used to work with someone who took great care to thank everyone for their contributions to the project at every meeting, except me. I don’t really know why she disliked me enough that she couldn’t bear to thank me for anything, but I guess expected I wouldn’t notice. I noticed.

5) Socializing is time-consuming. Introverts can get their solo-recharge time while they scrub toilets or do their taxes, but none of my friends want to come over for that (do you?) If I want to see people at least a couple nights a week–and I do–I need to make plans, send an invitation, organize a time and place and then actually get myself there, even if it’s snowing and I’m sleepy. It’s worth doing, but it means putting off taxes and scrubbing and other things I should really get done.

Wow, what a sad sack list! I was trying to ape to woe-is-me tone in the introvert articles but now I just feel really bad about myself. But actually–I’m fine! I get to spend lots of time with people and lots of time alone, just as my personality prefers. I enjoy my own company and that of others, big parties and long walks, and blah blah blah, all that other stuff introverts supposedly are the only appreciators of.

I probably shouldn’t things I read on BuzzFeed so seriously…

 

January 29th, 2015

Cutting, cutting

So I am editing my book now, and as you probably knew but I didn’t, it’s very stressful and challenging, and sometimes sad. I’m chopping up a story that never really worked anyway. On the one hand, I’m glad to be rid of it because there’s probably 10 versions in my folders and none really cohere properly. I’m going to be able to repurpose some of the more informational bits elsewhere (I hope!) but all the connective tissue, especially the mood- and character-building bits, are essentially being surplussed. Which issued, because some of them are good…or at least I think so. Then I remembered that is why I have a blog, to give voice to all my useless bits.

Thus, I give you the opening of the story “The First Day of School”, which no longer exists…

The walk to school is lemon-yellow and green—still summer, only now I’m wearing slacks and teaching loafers, carrying files, and up so very early. Early September is marketed in back-to-school Walmart fliers as orange leaves and sweaters, but the past few years it’s been just more heat and popsicles with the sunlight slightly slanted. I feel like this is a recent phenomenon, maybe the result of climate change, but it’s hard to remember. Back in the nineties, was there crisp air on Labour Day? Do I Instagram my memories? I’m old enough to be permanently suffused with nostalgia—the constant onslaught of bright-hued youth that is my profession doesn’t help. I miss the politically relaxed atmosphere that allowed me to at least use the term Indian summer.

The streets near campus are lifeless except for breezes and cats. There’s always a lull between the start of classes and when students feel up to attending. Even on Centre Green, where workers are trying to collapse the massive frosh-week beer tent, there’s a dreamy quiet. In a few weeks, the green will be trampled and strewn with lithe bodies, but for now it feels like I have the campus to myself.

December 2nd, 2014

Notes from the bronchial fog, day 22

I have been meaning to write a post telling everyone how horrible having bronchitis is, but one of the things that’s horrible about it is it makes me really exhausted all the time–every little chore is about 30% harder than it normally is. Also, when I complain, I find out that lots of people have had bronchitis, or even get it every year (chronic bronchitis is a thing, apparently, and it doesn’t sound fun). So basically, what I’m saying is, I feel extremely sorry for myself but my situation is pretty average–if that is the sort of thing that tends to annoy you, perhaps you’ll want to stop reading now.

SO, today is day 22 of being sick (actually now it’s day 23–see above about getting too tired to finish things). As I attempt to reconstitute events, they go something like this.

Monday November 10, evening, I notice I have a sore-ish throat. I am mad, because I had a really bad cold at the end of September, not even two months ago, and this feels very unfair.

Rest of that week–yep, I have a cold. On the weekend, it seems to be getting a bit better, but then I start coughing really loudly and crazily–like, sometimes I can’t breathe or I fear I will vomit. Apparently bronchitis is some kind of parasitical disease. It waits until you are weak with a cold and then attacks.

By middle of the second week, I recognize that I am no longer sniffling and sneezing, just coughing like a maniac and having trouble walking up steep flights of stairs. The doctor confirms that I have bronchitis but thinks it’s viral, so there’s not much you can do to make it go away. She does give me some meds to help me cope in the meantime–codeine syrup to prevent coughing at night and help me sleep (does nothing) and a puffer to improve my breathing (does nothing). I keep taking the puffer, which I don’t fully understand and might be inhaling wrong, but switch back to NyQuil after a few days of waking up hourly every night.

The doctor also did a nose swab (least fun!!) in order to check me for pertussis (whooping cough). She did this because my astounding new niece, Isla, was born on November 16, and I would REALLY like to meet her. It takes 5 business days to get the test results back, so middle of last week. The doctor leaves a message saying that I don’t have pertussis, but also implying that I’m probably feeling much better by now.

This is alarming, because I am miserable, so I call her back and tell her my sad state of affairs. She thinks that if I am still not better at all, perhaps I have bacterial bronchitis instead of viral, and prescribes me antibiotics. My husband picks up the new meds for me before going out for Friday night without me because I am not physically capable of attending an event where there might not be chairs for everyone.

The weekend is a low point, wherein I try to Christmas shop, become exhausted after 45 minutes but refuse to go home because Christmas. By Monday I was coughing less but so migraine-y i had to take a different medication. Worried that it would interact with all the other nonsense I was taking, I hauled everything to the pharmacy and asked them to tell me if I would do any harm by taking it all. They said no, and I spent a pleasant evening looped on pain meds before going to bed at 9:30.

Now it is today, and I am working from home so that I can nap on my lunch hour, and feeling a bit better, all things considered. Less coughing, somewhat less tiredness, but honestly, I’m still not feeling that great. And it’s day 23.

I’m pretty confident I will not have bronchitis forever, and that also by the standards of diseases I could have, this is pretty mild. However, weakling that I am, I have learned a lot from this experience. Things like:

1) Even though I think I’m not an athletic person, I do a lot that requires my body. I am a pedestrian and my mode of living requires me to walk fair distances and even climb lots of stairs on occasion. I like to run and play with the children I know. When I didn’t need to expend effort to do these things, I didn’t think about them–now I think about them all the time.

2) When I don’t go to work, I don’t get paid. This has always been true of my current job, and I chose to have things that way. I never minded because I live below my means and can afford a day or two off when I need one. However I cannot afford an endless procession of such days. Perhaps I need disability insurance. Certainly I need to be conscious of this fact.

3) My job is pretty nice in that they let me work from home whenever they can spare me so I can take lunch naps.

4) My husband is pretty nice because he goes and gets me drugs and also lets me sleep in the marital bed even though I sound like an excitable seal.

5) People who are chronically ill have a really tough time. I always knew that, but I think I know it more now.

November 10th, 2014

On hobbies

I’m a recovering type-A personality. I doubt many people (of that small group that would even care to think about it) would peg me as such, because I’ve gotten a lot more easy-going over the years. But in truth I’m a standard eldest child: straight As not because my parents wanted them but I did, years of Conservatory music exams though I possessed exactly no talent, very few electives in university because why would I do anything other than the things I did best??

Yes, I’ve calmed down a lot since–the nice thing about being an adult is you get fewer letter grades, so “doing well” becomes by necessity an internal proposition much more than one bestowed from above. Many people use money in lieu of grades when they get older, but I don’t run in those circles. Happiness, I guess, is a good barometer…but so ambiguous!

One of the most important things I’ve found for healing the type-A blues is hobbies. In high-school and university, most people I knew were in a band or on a sports team, active in politics or their religious institutions, making art or performing something or other. As adults, we naturally narrow our scope to a few things we do really well, or at least can do really well sometimes. For most of us, that’s a job of some kind, because in this economy if you aren’t at least pretty good at your job you don’t eat. For me, I also have a second career writing, and though it’s not hardly keeping me fed, it’s very important to me to do it well (though I am procrastinating my current story to write this post).

So there: two things I have trained and worked for many years to excel at, at least a little. I feel terrible about even minor failures in either arena, and beat myself up for weeks (who is currently cringing with shame over a stupid mistake at work?? oh yes–me). Other people’s assessments of my work matter to me tremendously (sad but true) and though I’m not a cry-in-the-bathroom type, I remember every harsh thing said by a colleague or a reviewer for life.

For years, I didn’t have hobbies both because I didn’t think I had time, but also because when I was already struggling so hard at the things that are supposed to be my areas of expertise, I thought why would i want to start doing something I was LESS good at–for fun! Those 15 years I played the piano had their bright spots, but a lot of it was me failing over and over to play the music the way I knew it should sound. Constant disappointment, really.

But as it turned out, I needed an arena I could fail in–somewhere where the stakes were low-to-non-existent, where no one was even bothering to assess my work because it was just a goof-off, for fun. An opportunity to learn new skills instead of endlessly trying to refine old ones. The learning curve goes so much faster at the beginning–have you ever noticed that?

As for time–well, eff time. No one has enough–human activity is like a gas, expanding to fill what time is offered. I have to not work some of the time, and I might as well be using my brain and doing something at least a little cool. And guys, take it from someone who has agonized over a B-, it’s FUN to screw up and have there be not only no consequences but no evidence. No one knows how badly I just played that version of “O Holy Night” (except possibly my husband if he’s paying attention in the next room).

Here is a list of hobbies I’ve taken on in the last 8 or 9 years. With most of them, I’ve quit or stepped way back right around the time my perfectionist instincts kicked in. Once I started noticing how other people in my yoga class could bend so much deeper in Warrior II, the thrill was gone. But I loved learning yoga and I’ll probably go back to it one day–I just didn’t want to get far enough in that it wasn’t fun anymore. Other things of a similar ilk:

Pilates (as the first of the adult hobbies, this one did get a bit overboard for a while)
Yoga
Circuit training
Long-distance running
Crochet
Knitting
Fancy baking
Feldenkris
Cat clicker training
Guitar
Makeup applications (no, really–so fun!)

What these things all have in common–I have friends who enjoy discussing them, relatively low cost of entry both in money and time, vague but not passionate interest from me. And that’s really all it takes to get a fun weeknight or a few months or a few years. What do you do when you need to not need to succeed?

July 6th, 2014

Midyear review

Remember when I used to check in on my new year’s resolution progress every year on my birthday and call it the mid-year review? Yeah, I’m not as organized as I used to be (it turned out that bitchy friend who said, “I wonder if you would get so much done if you had a boyfriend?” was right–I don’t. There’s a few other reasons too, though.) But it is still approximately the midyear and I’ve been thinking about it so, hey, why not. Also, let’s face it–I probably would be less likely to try this if I didn’t think I was progressing decently. Those years I didn’t do check ins–there was nothing happy to report. Anyway, let’s take a look.

Here’s the old post with the original resolutions. And here’s my thoughts on how I’ve done in the first six months:

1. Mini M&Ms charity. This has been going fairly well in the sense that I have actually been giving to people. Sometimes I forget, since for so many years it was against policy, and then I have to go scrambling back on the sidewalk with my little M&Ms case. I doubt it makes me look too sane, but oh well. I have also been noticing to whom I’m more apt to give: anyone with a pet, of course, but also younger kids with kooky signs. I’m trying to go against that instinct a little, because I think everyone has it–younger, saner-looking people are less intimidating than older possibly mentally ill or intoxicated men, especially since that’s the category who is likely to smell a bit funky. I guess most of want to give to those whom we relate to, but my thinking is that the ones furthest out of the mainstream probably need help the most. Hence, I’m trying to give more to them. They don’t say thank you very often, but I’m also trying not to mind that–not supposed to be the point!

2. Learn to play the guitar. Meh, I just finished practicing so I am not at peak self-esteem re: musical ability, but it’s going ok. I can pluck out a number of recognizable tunes, and I think my ear might be getting better. Chords continue to challenge me and my tiny mouse hands, but I preservere. Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” might be in my grasp yet.

3. Possibly file the papers I’ve had stacked on the floor of my office for over a year. Maybe. This one is basically a fail–the pile is still there, and messier than ever after being attacked by a cat. But I did file a few of the papers, and I am tending to fail new papers directly, instead of adding to the pile. Of course, my definition of “file” is a little difficult–I basically mean “put in filing cabinet, anywhere.” This is problematic, I know.

4. Clicker train my elder cat, Evan, to give him something to focus his energies on so he isn’t such a pain all the time. Surprisingly, this one worked. I have trained Evan to do a high-five and assorted other small tricks. We have also mastered “sit” and are working on “stay” now, his first useful trick. He is currently at 17 seconds for stay, which wouldn’t be very much for a dog but is HUGE for a cat. I’m very proud of him. Who would’ve thought this would be my most successful resolution.

5. Knit a thing that has an actual purpose. I did actually secure a scarf pattern and wool for a said scarf, but then the friend who runs my knitting club had a baby. So no more knitting club, and I do not see the point of knitting alone in a room. I cannot knit in an open area of my home because cats, so knitting is kind of over for me for a while. I’m not too upset about it, really.

6. Something about my manuscript-in-progress. I did what I set out to do–I wrote the book I wanted to write to the best of my ability. Which is not to say it is the book it needs to be yet, but I am very optimistic about the next step. Please watch this space for more on this situation as it develops.

7. Cook lots of new recipes. Going well! I will be travelling to Utah later in the summer, and so the lovely Julia Zarankin gave me a Utah cookbook, which has lead to some culinary adventures and deliciousness!

8. Blog more frequently than once a month. Basically successful on this one–3-4 times a month on average, with some dips and overages.

While we’re on the subject, I should probably add to the list:

9. Floss daily. A resolution in previous years that I was successful with. But then I got cocky, so it’s back on the list.

10. Plan to socialize a reasonable amount every week. Not every night, because that is exhausting and also I am allegedly writing a book, but also not no nights, because I am me and shrivel up without social fun.

Well, I feel like I’m set for the next six months. What are you planning for the rest of 2014?

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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