July 9th, 2015

Songs that have been stuck in my head

I decided to keep a diary of all the songs that have been stuck in my head, because they are so varied and random. And they don’t seem to come from anywhere, it’s not like “Oh, I heard that on the radio at the dentist’s office.” Some of these I hadn’t heard in years until one day they began playing inside my head and wouldn’t stop. Most of them are terrible. What does this say about me?

Anyway, tracking them has taught me a thing or two about the whole “stuck in my head” thing–I tend to only hear my internal music when I’m doing something that does not require my full attention, like cooking or showering. If I’m working or reading, no aural landscape. Interesting?

Well, here’s the diary, starting with the very surprising song that triggered the project. If I can recall having heard the song recently or can think of another reason it’s in my head, I have put a * beside it–all the starless entries are inexplicable!

Tuesday June 23

–evening: “Nookie” by Limp Bizkit

–later evening: “Izzo” by Jay-Z

–going to bed: “Hold Me Closer Tiny Dancer” by Elton John

Wednesday June 24

–morning, in the shower: “Poor Cow” by Elton John*

Thursday June 25

–3am, awake for no reason: “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” by Shakira

–getting ready for work: “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift

–immediately after that: “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage

Somehow I don’t have any songs in my head on the weekend???

Monday June 29

–in the elevator leaving for work, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”

Thursday July 2

–in the elevator leaving for work (seems to be a popular time for songs to invade my brain), “Let’s Talk about Sex” by Salt N Pepa

Tuesday July 7

–getting off the bus at work “Sick of Myself” by Matthew Sweet

(Are you noticing there are fewer and fewer of these? I’m not forgetting to post them, the phenomenon is just diminishing. I wonder if this is like lucid dreaming, where the more you try to recall and control it, the less it happens…?)

–getting ready for bed, “Sick of Myself” by Matthew Sweet

Wednesday July 8

–morning, getting dressed, “Sick of Myself” by Matthew Sweet (I’m trying not to take this as a message from my brain–it’s just a really catchy song!)

–around 11:30pm, trying to fall asleep, “Rossland Square” (this song is noteable as being the first on the list that is in my current listening list, though honestly I can’t think of the last time I heard it outside my own skull)

Thursday July 9

–late afternoon, heading down the subway stairs after work, “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John (Geez, that guy is on here a lot.)

–evening, microwave frozen mango for a snack “You’re the One That I Want” by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John

All right, I’m going to end this hear because this exercise has been humiliating and proves no matter how much good music I try to shove into my brain, something in more core has lousy lousy taste. I want to think that truly complex interesting music is difficult to just play on a mental loop without thinking, but I’m not sure if that’s true. Maybe I am truly just a 90s mallrat in denial.

If you’re tempted into doing one of these mental-music diaries, I’d love to see it!

May 26th, 2015

Wall of Fame

I try to avoid talking about my writing life at work unless someone specifically asks me. I’m not embarrassed, I just figure it’s not really anyone else’s problem and everyone at work wants to just focus on work. Which actually isn’t true–everyone in my office has been very supportive and encouraging about my writing ever since a freelance editor who is also a poet outed me as an author on a conference call with 10 people, and one of those people emailed the entire company for some reason. Very awkward, but very sweet–she was that excited for me.

I’m so lucky to have received all this support and encouragement while I balance my two careers, and now I’m even on the Wall of Fame in the office. This is where they put up little blurbs about folks who have done cool things outside of work. I’m honoured to be included! Here’s my blurb…design credit Jennifer Leung.11x14-Rebecca (2)

May 22nd, 2015

My Life in Birthdays

As I approach epic 37 on Saturday, I have been thinking about birthdays past and trying to see how many I can recall. When I began writing this post, I didn’t think I could make it have a larger meaning than “It’s fun for me to remember” but the time I’d delved backwards through 15 years of notes and photos and diaries, trying to figure out how I spent each milestone, I realized that I had learned something–I feel in the moment like I never change but I have… 23-year-old RR was so different from almost-37-year-old RR that it’s shocking. I think I have finally impressed upon myself that I am truly aging. How odd. Anyway, here’s how I spent every birthday, more or less, since my champagne year…

36: I threw a big birthday party for myself, something I hadn’t done since high school. Somehow I thought people would find it self-important or an imposition, which doesn’t make any sense because I go to lots of self-thrown birthday parties myself and find them delightful. So I did it and it was wonderful and I suppose if anyone was annoyed by it, they just didn’t come–lesson learned!!

35:  This was a more chill birthday. It had occurred to me that I never go to fancy restaurants even though I am no longer dead broke and could do so once in a while. So Mark and I went to Joso’s for Italian style seafood and a decor of naked ladies. It was pretty great.

34: I was able to pull up the other memories here without any help, but I can’t for the life of me remember what I did this year. There’s no blog post about it and no birthday pictures on Facebook except for my colleagues taking me out to East Side Mario’s, as they do every year (love!) But usually I would do something else in the evening or on the weekend to celebrate…very mysterious. If you were there, what happened??

33:  Challenging birthday–I had to go to NYC for 24 hours for a reading, plus I had both mono and a terrible rash from some misprescribed medication. But I got home and Mark gave me ice-cream cake and then I felt better.

32: Mark and I went to Montreal and I got the courier bag I carry to this day. I also maintain 32 is the best age because it is the only 5th power in the human lifespan. I enjoyed it anyway!

31: I was visiting my brother in Tokyo and we did a whole day of celebrating. One of my favourite birthdays ever (36 is also in that category).

30: My good friend Penny threw me a birthday party in the party room of her condo, although curiously this post doesn’t mention that–I wonder why? Anyway, it was a fun party and I remember it fondly. However, unlike all of the above birthdays, this one seems like a different era, a very long time ago. And it really was a different time–Penny moved out of that condo shortly thereafter, my friend Kim who brought a multi-tiered neon-frosted cake to the party went on to move to England, Kerry and Stuart were at the party and they didn’t have any children yet!! Most importantly, I suppose, though it seems all of a piece, this is the last birthday before I met the man whom I later married. Truly this was a previous age of RR.

29: Apparently I went to Port Dover with my family for my 29th birthday but honestly this isn’t a crystal-clear memory. 2007 was also the first year of this blog, so props to that!

28: We are now fully in territory I don’t remember, but I can check diaries and photo albums to figure it out. I spent this birthday with my family, as my brother had just returned from most of a year abroad and I was very glad to see him. Apparently the Kimster also gave me a kit to hand-embroider a silk scarf, which sounds so lovely but what did I do with that??

27: This is now pre-Facebook for me and my diary deals but a glancing blow on the birthday. I seem to have been in a bit of a low state on my birthday, frightened of going back to school and being unemployable. Fred came to visit shortly after the birthday and that cheered me up. As well it would!

26: Apparently I went to see Shrek 2 on my 26th birthday??? This is where old RR differs significantly from young RR, as I can’t imagine why I would have wanted to do that. It’s starting to feel a bit creepy, investigating these old events as if they were the work of a stranger into whom I have no insights.

25: All I know is I described the day as “excellent” and Melanie gave me sea monkeys. I seem to remember those sea monkeys…maybe. Also, I made this statement–really funny to me now that I felt mocking of the idea of Young People when I was all of 25. “I am all lethargic and groggy. All I want to do is lie on the couch and read Fashion, a truly dreadful magazine that my mother receives in the mail for no reason and saves for me because it seems, in her eyes, to be meant for Young People”

24: My notes from my 24th birthday are a bit demented. Apparently I was working at both of the jobs I had at that point on my birthday, as well as going to a class, so my plan was to “go out at midnight.” Not sure what I meant by that–hope I had fun! I sound very tired in this entry.

23: I was living at home after university graduation at this point and a touch depressed, but I actually do remember this birthday because my home bedroom still contains a “Becky is 23!” banner that Kim brought over. I think there was cake and other friends in there too. I was excited that it was my champagne birthday even though I had no desire to drink champagne…and didn’t.

22: I didn’t keep any kind of diary (that I recall, anyway) in university, but because I stayed in Montreal the summer after third year and almost none of my friends did, I can guess by default I spent this birthday with my friend Wren and maybe Zainab. I have a vague sense that maybe we saw a movie…?

 And that’s as far as I can even guess. The summers after first and second years I went back to Ontario to work so I guess I spent my birthdays with people there, but I don’t recall. I could start going through high-school diaries and photo albums but I actually really don’t want to–this is enough nostalgia for one post.

Only one pre-20s birthday stands out, which is my 16th. I had read a story somewhere in which a girl was born in a leap year on February 29, so her birthday only occurs every four years. Thus, when she’s 16, it’s her “fourth” birthday and she throws a party appropriate for pre-schoolers. Which I thought was awesome, so I did it too, even though my birthday isn’t on February 29. Details! I remember my friends and I really enjoyed this silliness–I guess we all like having a little glimpse of our youth every now and then…

 

March 31st, 2015

The Late-Onset Adult: Tax Tips

I think late-onset adulthood is fairly common in our society now–even the phrase “live at home” has developed a meaning specific to recent times (surely we all, in fact, live at home). And frankly, at 36, I’m rather proud of all the grownup things I do–I support myself financially, I shop for and prepare healthy meals, pay bills, care for cats and occasionally other people’s children, take myself to the doctor when I’m sick, travel, even drive a car if I absolutely have to. I’ve booked hotels, helped friends in trouble, run meetings, navigated strange cities, gone to parties alone, hell, I even got married. Sometimes I add it all up (usually when I’m on the subway for some reason) I’m genuinely shocked that I’m so…functional.

But I don’t do my own taxes. I’ve always found this rather embarrassing, but every year I still bundled up the papers and trucked them off to my mom. She does the whole family, and is very very good at it. She used to be part of a volunteer squad who would go to nursing homes and community centres in low-income areas and do tax returns for whomever asked. When she wasn’t able to volunteer any more (logistical reasons), she still had us to keep her busy.

But really, taxes are stressful and I’ve been feeling guilty about putting the burden on her. Also, a bit embarrassed at not really understanding my own financial matters. So I’m on a slow, easy path to tax maturity–this is year three, and I figure there’s probably about three more in the process. I thought I’d share how I’m doing this, in case you’d also like to try for tax maturity. A few caveats…

* this process probably won’t work unless the person who is doing your taxes is doing it out of love–a parent, sibling, partner, or close friend–someone who is willing to help you however you want to be helped, and spend a lot of time with you to do it. This will probably not work with, say, a professional tax preparer.

* my taxes are semi-complex due to the fact that I have both a day-job and a small business as a writer and editor. I don’t earn all that much from my biz, but it’s all in little scraps and so are the deductions I have to take against the earnings (true fact: I got a T4A for $25 this year). Plus I’m dealing with lots of little, disorganized publications and groups, so they don’t always issue their paperwork properly–or at all–so I have to keep detailed records of what actually happened to present to the CRA. This makes my taxes more confusing, and much bulkier, than those of someone who just has a job with a single T4 and then some deductions and that’s it. So that sort of person could likely zip through the process a lot faster than me.

* I do my taxes by hand, because that’s how my mom does them. Apparently there’s all kinds of software that makes things easier, but if I used them then my mom couldn’t help me and I am only halfway through the process so I still REALLY need her help. I figure in a few years, when I’ve really got things sorted, I will try to learn the software–for now, my forms come from the post office and I mail them in a manila envelope. No online tax tips here.

Ok, here we go…

Year 0 (as many year 0s as you need): Sort through your receipts and slips and give the person doing your taxes an orderly set of papers. Sift out all the unnecessary stuff. If you’re me, you keep any vaguely important paper in a box all year–receipts for things you might want to return, vet bills, notices from your landlord–and only at tax time do you sort through and shred the stuff you didn’t wind up needing. At least, I do that now–I’m ashamed to admit there was a time when I just gave the box to my mother and let her decide to do with that fully-paid dentist bill.

In addition to simply removing the useless stuff, try asking the person helping you what categories the papers should be sorted into and then do that (the first year I also organized within categories by date, but I found out that’s pointless). This allows you to not only take some of the stress off your helping person, but also start to form a basic sense of how taxes work. I actually wrote a decent story set in a tax preparation class way back in 2007 based only on this sort of info. You can learn a lot just by making neat little piles of papers.

Year 1: Show up with your papers for your mom or other helpful soul to do your taxes, but then–this is big–stay. Don’t run away and let the tax preparation process remain mysterious–stay and watch, and hopefully your person will narrate what’s going on. I’m lucky (very lucky!) in that both my folks are born teachers and my mom is at ease not only working on the taxes but explaining what she’s doing. I wish you similar luck, but you may have to ask more questions if you’re not able to follow. Don’t be too intrusive, bring tea, offer shoulder rubs, and try not to let your mind wander. This is the last low-stress year, since you’re just absorbing the process and no one is asking any hard questions of you. But again, you should still be learning.

Year 2: Ok, this is the first scary year–show up with your papers, bring your person a cup of tea and now YOU do the taxes, with your helpful person watching. This can end up a lot like year 1, in that if you stare blankly at a piece of paper long enough the person who knows what she’s doing will probably just tell you what to do next, and if you do that enough times you’ll eventually be done the whole tax return. Try to make some stabs at finding your own next move, and trust your person to tell if you’re screwing up. Keep a copy of the Year 1 tax return handy, too, so you can imitate what worked last time around when the much smarter person was doing the return.

Year 3: Do your taxes by yourself based on what you’ve learned so far, the guidance of reviewing last year’s return, and the occasional phone call (I may or may not have called my mother 6 times in March specifically about taxes) or email. At the end of this process, give the completed return (good copy, but be prepared to make an even better copy) to your person to make sure you didn’t go off the rails anywhere. This is the year I’m just completing–I handed over my forms on Sunday at brunch, and I’m feeling pretty darn proud. I guess I should wait until I get the feedback before counting any grown-up gold stars, though…

Year 4: This is a projected year, but I anticipate it’ll be similar to Year 3 except with fewer phone calls.

Year 5: I think I’ll try to learn the software this year, which means I can call for advice during the process but I can’t  show my mom the final product (because it’ll live in the internet somehow? do I have this right?) I really should be ok with that at this point, I think–especially with the in-process phone calls.

Year 6: I’m not sure this is really as close as three years out, but eventually I want to be the sort of person my mom is, tax-wise and generous with said wisdom. My aim is to take over my husband’s taxes and save him the money he’s currently spending on H&R Block, but I’d only do that if we were really feeling confident, because I find another person’s documents trickier to understand than my own. And then perhaps I’ll go further afield, wandering the streets and helping others with taxery. I shall be beneficent and carry a flaming calculator…

Well, you get the idea! Did you come to any useful life skills at a later age? How did you do it?

March 6th, 2015

Current Obsessions: House-Hunting

This is almost not a “current” obsession anymore, as I’ve more or less given up on actually buying a house, and that kind of takes the thrill out of the hunt (though I’m still reading the listings, of course, with the idea that if there were something REALLY good I’d go see it). I’ve long thought that I couldn’t begin to enter the crazed Toronto housing market (remember when I pointed that out nearly a year ago?) But everyone said of course, you could buy a house and encouraged my husband and I, and for a while we got swept up and got a real estate agent, got approved for a mortgage, and started going and looking at houses.

What happened then was that we found out that having a “budget” and looking at the listings according to “price” was foolhardy. Many of the houses in our budget were gleefully described as “a handyman’s dream.” Not being a handyman, I’ve never had those dreams, I guess, and the houses just looked like neglected older homes, many with uninsurable wiring, asbestos in the basements, leaks in the walls, or oddly placed shower stalls (one place had two in one bathroom cancelling out almost all floor space; another had one that opened directly into the rec room). But there are also a small number of reasonably cute, reasonably well-located, non-disintegrating houses in our price range. We call these “lies.”

Apparently, sometimes a realtor will price a nice house really low so as to attract more interest and, oh cruel irony, bid up the price very high in the end, higher than a normal we-can’t-afford-it-house. The only house we even considered putting in a bid on recently sold for $136 000 over asking. So basically, you can’t shop by budget–you can only sort through the listings and try to imagine which houses look sad enough to actually sell for something you can afford. This gets depressing quickly.

And also, we already have a nice place to live. Well, nice enough. Well, we could probably find something nicer. Or something. We’re going to move soon, somewhere, probably. It depends on the day you ask me. The existence of the apartment we already have hasn’t really cheered me in this round of the no-house blues (considering the amount of cognitive dissonance that went into the foredoomed house-hunting of the past little while, do you think it’s possible I will forget the whole mess AGAIN and want to start all over in 6 months? Oh no!) Things that have cheered me are
–the time we went to a really posh bar for no reason with Mark’s colleagues and Mark picked up the tab for everyone, because we have a little extra money and it’s nice to do things like that
–the big snow storms we’ve had recently, wherein we did not have to shovel anything
–the fact that our pipes didn’t freeze when so many of our friends’ did (not that we do not feel bad for those friends!)
–the freeing up of Sunday afternoons now that we aren’t going to look at houses

One of the really interesting things that this process showed me is what life might be like if I were not a writer. Not that I believe I’d have more money in that scenario–I’d probably just have the same job I currently do minus the small but pleasant trickle of writing income. It’s that I’d have so much *time.* I glean from the realtor and other house hunters that some people view houses multiple times a week, even on weeknights, and then they go to a bunch of open houses on top of THAT! They read all the listings and watch real-estate tv shows! AND they think nothing of going from this gruelling process directly into major home renovations that would take up even more time. It’s shocking and baffling. I have no free time to speak of–even tonight, when I’m going to eat takeout and watch Dr. Strangelove with my husband, is a long-planned treat. There are no empty slots in my schedule. Non-writing people are weird!

Other things I’ve learned about my fellow humans come from visiting the houses themselves, such as
–other people have very few things. I recognize that many of the houses we saw were at least lightly staged and heavily cleaned, but the reason I know the lack of stuff was real is that there was no space to accommodate it. Most living rooms we saw contained a sectional sofa and a flat-screen tv hanging from the opposite wall. Often that was ALL, and if there was more it was perhaps a single framed painting and a floor lamp. I don’t think of myself as really materialistic, and yet, you want to know what my living room contains? a) 6 Billy bookcases that contain over 2000 box plus assorted framed and unframed photos, candles, and other knickknack, b) a sizeable stereo system, the last of the really good ones that were large (from around 2002), with three components (amplifier, cd player and tape player [yes, there’s also a hookup for an iPod) all on a little wheeled cart, plus two toaster-sized speakers, c) a tube tv on a large cupboard that contains DVDs, a blu-ray player, a VCR, a Wii, and a bunch of Wii games and accessories, d) a coffee table covered in house plants, e) a second coffee table used as a coffee table, with an under shelf full of magazines, f) a side table for coasters and remote controls, g) two easy chairs and a small couch, h) two floor lamps, i) two end tables turned sideways to double as a console table/shoe rack. Yes, part of the problem is that our technology is outmoded, but I can’t see spending $1000 to replace the TV and stereo just so they would fit in a RIDICULOUSLY TINY TORONTO LIVING ROOM.
–some people live without bureaus. This is more on the previous point, I guess, but fascinating in that where is their underwear and socks? Toronto people REALLY know how to use a closet, though–some of the systems I’ve seen, with multiple layers and levels, are really impressive
–things I think are necessary–like a door on the bedroom–are to some people not necessary
–some people are very very bad at home repair and apparently have no idea. Who would caulk a window themselves, get the caulk all over the glass, and just leave it like that?
–I hate basements! Hate them. Many Toronto basements are very dark and almost windowless (especially in row houses) and if they are unfinished seem to even have dirt floors. They are criss-crossed at the ceiling with both wires and clotheslines, and the ceilings are often barely 6 feet, so it is easy to self-strangle. Always the worst part of the tour.

This is becoming a rant, so maybe I’ll end it here–probably I’ll continue to obsess but hopefully not too badly. Houses–they are the flame, I am the moth!

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…

 

August 13th, 2014

The end of my single-girl cred

I am coming to the end of my credibility as knower of things about living single, which is sad but not that sad–it means I have been married for two years Monday, which is awesome, and people have come to picture me more with my husband than without him, which is neither here nor there but simply a fact of life. It is a little annoying when I attempt to suggest single people can be or do a certain thing and get dismissed because “You don’t have to deal with it; you have Mark.”

Of course, and lucky me, but I wasn’t *born* with Mark (that would be weird). I lived alone for ten years and for much of that was truly single–not on-again-off-again, not between boyfriends, but actually not in a romantic relationship at all. I had my good days and bad, of course, but I also learned a lot about how to make the best of the life I had.

I think I have some good advice left to give on the subject, but people are taking me less and less seriously as my married state becomes more the way they know me. And I admit, I have been guilty of saying some horrible smug-married-isms like, “It comes when you aren’t looking for it.” Ugh. No wonder no one wants to listen to me.

So here, the week after my second wedding anniversary, is my final reckoning with the most useful information I learned while living single. I will shut up on the topic from now on unless specifically asked. Promise. I wonder how long I have to be married to start giving advice on that?

Of course you can do things alone. Like public speaking, playing with big dogs, and flying on planes, the only impediment is nervousness, which lessens with practice. The idea that if you feel weird or awkward going out alone, you should stop is crazy–what if people did that on first dates? It takes time to chill out about any new experience. I started with movies, because honestly if you’re counting on a companion to entertain you at the movies you’re doing it wrong. I moved on to fast-food and food-court type restaurants, for practicality’s sake–I didn’t want to be limited in how long I could be out of the house alone by my fragile blood-sugar, and I’m not crazy about powerbars. I eventually got to mid-price sit-down restaurants like Swiss Chalet and Pickle Barrel, partly because I like them more than most of my friends do, but also because I went through a phase in grad school where I was so busy I couldn’t socialize on the weekends, but I didn’t want to sit home alone. The answer was to haul the laptop to Swiss Chalet and work there. At least I was among humans.

In all of the above scenarios, no one cared or even seemed to notice that I was alone.  I found this to be a little less true in really fancy restaurants, which yes, I’ve done on my own a time or two. Those were mainly because I was travelling and someone said I had to try such-and-such a restaurant, and no one was with me to go. Those weren’t bad experiences, but a little awkward–plus I almost never go to fancy restaurants anyway, so when I do I prefer to share the experience.

The other big deal is parties. Parties are actually a bit harder because you can’t read a magazine and it can be awkward if you don’t have anyone to talk to for long periods. But it’s also great way to meet new people (something a single person may well want to do) without feeling that you’re tethered to an escort and have to make sure he/she has fun too. I started by arriving alone at parties where i knew a very good friend would be–as soon as I could find that person, I wouldn’t be alone anymore. I also did stuff like organize my time around going to the bathroom, getting a drink, getting food, etc., so that if I could keep shifting position to a) see new people and b) not look pathetic. I also learned that, within reason, it is ok to initiate conversations or insinuate myself into existing ones, even with strangers. That was big news to me! I always try to be really low pressure, so if anyone turns out to hate talking to me they can get away pretty quickly. But it’s almost always worth a try. I was gradually able to move up to parties where I knew fewer people, or was less close to them. It turns out you, or at least I, can’t really go to parties alone where I know no one. It’s too weird and sad, and I had too little incentive to stay (truth: I left an “industry party” after 20 minutes once, after having gotten all dolled up and travelled 45 minutes to get there.)

The bottom line is that you have to push your limits to get a firm sense of where your comfort zone is. Honestly, mine is my couch, and I’m sure so is most people’s, but life is more interesting when I leave it at least occasionally. It turns out I have a wider, semi-comfort-zone of things I can do and enjoy without feeling too weird. One fascinating thing my friend John once pointed out, “Being self-conscious is still being self-absorbed” or–no one cares what you’re doing except you, most of the time. When I do stuff on my own (and I still do), I felt like people were glancing at me weirdly or wondering what my story was, but almost certainly they weren’t, because who cares what some random chick who happens to be in the same restaurant as you is doing.

 

That’s it–that’s the single greatest thing I learned while single. It still helps to remember these lessons when no one’s around who wants to do what I want to do, I’m travelling alone, or I’ve simply had it with everyone I know. Which are circumstances that will no doubt occur for the rest of my life, married or not. It helps to be able to deal with them.

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?

June 8th, 2014

Blog questions about writing

There are a few little writing Q&As that roam the blogoverse. Like the frosh questionnaire, they sometimes come around more than once, but usually with enough space in between that my answers have totally changed in the meantime. I actually don’t think I’ve seen this exact one before, so even better. The “blog tour” is coming to me courtesy of my very talented friend, the writer/birder/teacher Julia Zarankin. She’s lovely and her answers to these questions are really wise and interesting–go read (the rest of her blog is also delightful–it’s about birds for the most part, but in a way totally approachable and entertaining to the non-birder). And now here’s my version–less wise than Julia’s, but hopefully still a little interesting…

What am I working on?
A new book! I finished the old one at the beginning of this year, and despite going back to it a couple times for revisions, and knowing that if I should be so lucky as to publish it a substantive edit is still ahead, I have plunged gleefully into a new on. The “finished” book was extremely challenging and dark, particularly at the end–I won’t say it ruined fall 2013 for me, but it certainly made it a grimmer season. Through that, I kept imagining a nice new project where nothing had gone wrong yet, where I didn’t fully know what would happen and the characters were waiting to be explored. Of course, doing that is significantly harder than thinking about it, but I am still enjoying this new, fresh writing with no expectations and no boundaries.

How does my work different from others’ in this genre?
Well, I don’t know that it does–I work hard a being good, but not necessarily at being unique. I figure that just comes with being myself and not being able to really disguise that fact or write in anyone else’s style. I’m actually a pretty conformist person and when I can be like everyone else, I usually will do so. Writing, though, I’m pretty much stuck with myself. I’m ok with that. So I suppose the short answer is that the way my work differs from other people’s is that it is written by me.

Why do I write what I do?
In terms of content, I write about the stuff that interests me. Writing fiction is a strangely useful way to figure out stuff in life that I don’t understand–when I don’t understand why people are behaving the way they are, sometimes I can write my way into their shoes. Who knows if I ever get it right, but I do acquire empathy for their ways of being and acting, and that’s really useful. I write short stories because that is what I am good at. I have been congratulated before at not abandoning my allegedly less-saleable stories in order to write allegedly more-saleable novels. But that is like congratulating me for not selling out to play with the NBA. I don’t know how to write a novel (or poetry or plays for that matter). I still have a lot to learn about stories, too, but I feel like I do know the form a bit, and how to most usefully work with it. That experience is hard won and it allows me to–sometimes–write something a reader can actually connect with. I may eventually be ready to start over in another form, but for now I’ll keep pushing stories to see how far they go.

How does my writing process work?

Whenever I have time–twenty minutes, two hours, a day–I open my computer and scroll through my current project until I get to the spot I was at last time, and then I try to keep going. I get distracted by everything, and rarely have a tonne of time to work, but bit by bit I get a draft. When it’s done, or at least has reached what feels like an endpoint, I go back to the top and read it through–changing obvious issues when I can. I try to go faster this time so I can hold the whole thing in my head at once. It’s usually only on the third time through that I start making big structural changes and finally feel like it’s actually a coherent story another human could read and understand. Another time through for line edits and then I’ll ask the aforementioned other humans for feedback. Then I’ll take the feedback that rings true, revise the piece yet again, and submit it for publication. If it gets rejected and the rejection comes with useful feedback–or doesn’t, but I’ve thought of some one my own in the meantime–I’ll revise it another time. Oh, and if there’s research to be done, it gets done whenever I get a chance. Easy stuff I can google or call a friend about happens mid-writing; trickier stuff that requires interviews or trips usually gets slotted in after the bulk of the writing is done. Sad but true.

***

This is meant to be a tour and I’m to pass on the baton at the end of this, but it seems I have fewer actively blogging friends than I used to, and those I do know have pretty specific content that they like to include most of the time. So I’m just going to leave this open to whomever wishes to try it out–but if you do take up the baton, be sure to let me know (if you don’t mind) so I can read your answers!

May 16th, 2013

Dumb Things People Say to Newlyweds

I wrote that post about dumb things people say to single women a while back with great joy–so many years of minor suffering exposed. I have been a married woman a comparatively brief amount of time, but I’m already finding that just because I have conformed to one set of societal expectations (getting married) doesn’t really keep people from picking on me. I think there’s probably a category of inane, mildly offensive chatter for every state of being–people can’t help themselves. My brief experience of marriage suggests single people get more obnoxiousness from the gadflies, but it hardly stops after the wedding ceremony.

Since I only have 9 months of newlywedded bliss to draw on, I’ve borrowed a few of these from friends…

Don’t get too used to…
I’ve heard this one applied to pretty everything nice about my husband. From remembering special occasions to simply doing his share of the household chores, apparently it’s all a show and Mark is on a one-way track to slothdom, soon to completely abandon his thoughtfulness in favour of televised sports and being a big jerk. It’s tempting to suggest that people who say this sort of thing are stuck in unhappy marriages and want me to get on the misery boat too–but I suspect some of them of being fairly fond of their spouses. I think this might be part of our weird societal fixation on monogamy–it’s supposed to be all anyone strives towards, but also a ball and chain that everyone resents. Weird Protestant work-ethic thing here?

Best thing to say to someone you like: “Shh–let me enjoy it while I can!”
Best thing to say to someone you don’t like: (with lip trembling, if possible) “Oh…no…I had no idea. I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

Now you can finally let yourself go!

It is relaxing to know your partner no longer cares if you wear yoga pants when not doing yoga, but we had that revelation years ago. I think this comment, as applied to women, is kinda moot–the standards set in romantic comedies and magazines for a young(ish) woman presenting herself on the dating market are so irrationally high–perfect skin, perfect BMI, perfect hair, manicure, plucked eyebrows, all manner of waxing, hours of shopping for a dress that you’ll be embarrassed if you wear at two events too close to each other–that “letting yourself go” means just accepting normal human flaws that people with real lives deal with anyway, single or married. My friend, who is very beautiful, got this comment after eating a cookie. ONE cookie.

Best thing to say to someone you like: Ok.

Best thing to say to someone you don’t like: Ok. [I see no reason to prolong this inane conversation, no matter how much you like or dislike the speaker.]

You must be so happy not to be dating anymore.

I have probably mentioned before, but folks who hate dating are not great dates–especially if they announce it at the beginning of dinner. Yes, it’s hard to leave the house in your nicest clothes knowing you could spend the rest of the evening hearing about dice-related games, a pitch for real estate, or why your date doesn’t really want to be there. But a certain amount of hopefulness and faith in mankind is necessary to find a life-partner, and also just generally not to be an awful person to be around. I liked dating–new people, new conversations, new restaurants. I liked dating especially after I met my husband, but really if you don’t enjoy an hour or two of chat with a person who professes to like you, what’s the point?

Best thing to say to someone you like: I liked dating; what don’t you like about it?

Best thing to say to someone you don’t like: No, I pine for it actually.

Babies? Babies! BABIES BABIES BABIES BABIES!

Once you’re married, people get *very* eager to see you move on to the next obvious life phase on their checklists. To a certain degree, I get it. If you (and by “you,” I mean anyone I know) said you were going to make a tiny adorable person, and then maybe let me play with said person, I would be happy and encourage you to proceed with this excellent plan. But I wouldn’t *instigate* the plan, no matter how cute I thought your offspring might be. There are so many reasons someone might not like to discuss this issue, from infertility to financial or psychological issues making it not the best time to produce new infants, to “I’m pregnant right now but not telling yet.” There’s just no reason to introduce potential awkwardness like this unless you are *very* close to the potential parent in question. And I have it on good authority from moms I know that even *having* a baby does not eliminate this question from common conversation; people just move on to asking when you’ll have your second, and so on until basically menopause. At least it ends there for parents; for those who remain childless, at menopause I hear people just start asking about adoption.

Best thing to say to someone you like: We’ll see (this is a minor fudge if you in fact already know the answer; what you actually mean is “you’ll see” but that sounds kinda mean).

Best thing to say to someone you don’t like: Whatever happens, I’ll be sure to keep you posted on this. (Especially hilarious if your questioner is someone you barely know, which is very very often the case.) I’ve also heard suggested, “Well, for now we’re happy just having recreational sex,” but there’s probably no one I’d want to embarrass that much and anyway I don’t have the stones to say it.

Where’s your spouse tonight?

Married people are varying degrees of joined at the hip: some have tonnes of interests they can share with their spouses, others are happy with “being married” as their only shared interest. Everyone who actually lives in society knows this, but somehow when you see your married friend standing at a party with no spouse in sight, it’s the first thing you ask about. I know, I’ve done it, and continue to accidentally do even as I insist that I have no idea what Mark is up to some nights and why is everybody asking me?

Best answer for someone you like: I guess, tell them if you know, and your spouse isn’t in the witness-protection program or at a strip-club or something.

Best answer for someone you don’t like: Oh my god, ack, I thought he was right over there and now he’s GONE. (Parents spring this one on me all the time when I ask about the whereabouts of their kids, but I think babysitting arrangements are way more normal to ask about than the movements of an autonomous adult! To each, their own, I guess….)

So, how’s married life?

This is the sweetest, most innocent question of all the annoying questions on this list. You spend months or a year (or many years) getting ready for your wedding, talking about plans and ideas and nerves, of course people are going to want to know how it all turned out. Of course, this question is impossible to answer–life is always a million things at once. I have learned to say, to anyone, “I like it–I think we made the right choice.” Whether I love them or hate them, most people are happy with this answer–people love love and happiness makes them happy…most of the time!

~~~

Anyone else want to offer up anything terrible said to a newlywed, either to you or by you or within your hearing?

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