Turning Pro – Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

This idea of self-sabotage dovetails nicely with a Zen Habits blog post I recently read about Savor Discipline. Leo Babauta addresses how the present self wants what it wants regardless of how it impacts the future self. He writes about the idea of merging the two interests, just as you would if you and your friend were making a decision on where to go for lunch. It wouldn’t always be one person’s choice; the two of you would take turns. Or you might merge your interests to come up with a third option that both would like. The present self and future self merge interests to find something they both can savour in the present moment. (I’m not doing this justice, so please read the post for yourself. Read the whole blog, while you’re at it! It’s wonderful.)

So how does this tie in with what I think Pressfield is saying? Well, here’s my practical example: I have lots of data-entry ahead of me today. I also have errands to run, chores to do, words to write, you know the rest. Future-Halsted would really like it if I just did all that work right now so she could kick back and do nothing later, but that would leave me irritated and frustrated. Present-Halsted just wants to curl up with a book and a cat or two, but that would result in nothing getting done. So I’ve found a third option: writing this post. I’m knocking something off my to-do list while taking a moment to reflect on a book I’m reading, and exercising my nonfiction skills a bit too. I’ve found something to savour in the moment instead of indulging my self-sabotaging ways.

Now I can make peace with Pressfield’s “addict” nomenclature because I get it: I have been an addict. I have been addicted to the concept of productivity, with all of its bells and whistles and to-do list apps. When I’m ticking off boxes, I get something like a buzz — look at all I’ve done today! — but those boxes can be for utterly inconsequential things, and at the end of it, when I’ve spent all of my energy ticking boxes and left nothing for myself, I can only see the hollow spaces of what I haven’t yet accomplished.

Turning Pro – Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

Another quote:

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

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

This book-club is going to be a doozy for me.

This Week

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I’m trying something new here, kind of a “state of the union” only the union is a person and that person is me and this might just be awkward and strange but we’ll give it a go anyway. I like the idea of writing a weekly report to keep myself accountable of how I’ve spent my time and where I am at with my goals. Hat-tip to Cate Huston for the idea. She’s a software engineer and all-around interesting person I met through … something I’ll mention later. Here we go!

Sunbathing beauty.

Life

The sun is coming back!

I saw Postmodern Jukebox in concert on Wednesday at the Queen’s Hall. Their performance was energetic and joyful, but I was pretty disappointed by the lack of Robyn Adele Anderson.

FunkyPlaid and I celebrated Valentine’s Day over sushi dinner. <3

Fitbit step-count: ~40,000 steps out of my 70,000 weekly goal. Although I have recovered from the latest nasty bout, I’ve been hiding indoors a bit this week. However, I just started a 12-week wellness programme with a super-duper coach and I’m feeling very positive about it.

Work

We’re almost done coding the naming authority data in JDB1745! This means that if we search for persona records with the first name “Robert” it’s going to pull up transcriptions like “Robt.” too. This essentially enables fuzzy-text searching on first, middle, and last names, and allows us to say things like, “Hey, when you see ‘Robt.’ also look for Robert, Bobt, Rob, etc.” This may seem like the simplest thing but 18th-century data sets are anything but simple.

I joined the Women in Technology Slack this week. Or maybe that was last week? I’m counting it for this week. It is filled with good people like Cate, and I look forward to the conversations there.

My weekend gig required more hands-on supervision than it usually does, which reminded me of two things:

  1. I enjoy teaching people, being enthusiastic about minutiae, and light record-keeping. But mostly I enjoy the teaching people part.
  2. Sometimes I have no idea what people here are thinking or feeling. That is mildly disturbing.

Writing

Scrivener word-count: 0 words of 1,750 weekly goal. Holy ugh. When I say my writing mojo has bottomed out, that’s what I’m talking about.

Hobbies

I didn’t volunteer at the Community Virtual Library this week; I’m trying to limit my in-world time while I get my writing schedule back on track. I visited my virtual cats, and that’s about it. (Yes, cats really do rule all of my worlds.)

My knitting projects are languishing just now because my arms and shoulders have been very sore.

Media

I finished reading Emma Healey’s “Elizabeth Is Missing” (my review is here) and started Laline Paull’s “The Bees”. I’m at 10% of my goal of reading 50 books this year.

The Daily Science Fiction story “Chocolate Chip Cookies for the Apocalypse” by Claire Spaulding got me all teary.

Top artists I listened to this week:

  • Postmodern Jukebox, obviously.
  • They Might Be Giants, because of Dial-A-Song Direct and also … I just love them.
  • Punch Brothers, because Rdio said I might like them and the cover of their album is a Magritte painting. I wasn’t thrilled by the music.

FunkyPlaid and I started watching the TV series “Dead Like Me” (first time for him, a re-watch for me) and I am enjoying it immensely. I am not sure that FunkyPlaid likes it quite as much, but at least I knew where to find more Mandy Patinkin to tide us over until “Homeland” returns this autumn. #quinning

I finished watching the fourth season of “The Walking Dead” and I am so conflicted about this show. Mostly it just makes me want to play the game.

Tweet o’ the Week

2014 in first lines.

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Can it be? 2015 is just an hour away! Here is my year in first lines.

January
Hello, beautiful human, and welcome to 2014.

February
¡Estamos en Barcelona!

March
About ten years ago, I became a zombie.

April
Writers’ Bloc returns to the Edinburgh International Science Festival for The Culture Collider, an exploration of weird science and stranger arts.

May
For the month of May, I’m back to meals for one.

June
I didn’t post in June, so here’s something from 9 years ago that I just found at random …
“Halsted, someone is collapsed in the women’s restroom downstairs,” is a sentence I never wanted to hear my coworker say.

July
My story “Paper Turtles” has been published in Innsmouth Magazine: 15.

August
Thank you to everyone who attended my Story Shop reading today at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

September
Be soft.

October
I meant to post this on The Morning After but got waylaid by my workweek, and then everything seemed saturated with the rawness of reaction so I put it off.

November
Stevenson Unbound is this afternoon!

December
One of the best presents in the world is an autographed copy of a book.

Happily, half of these are writing- or performance-related. I really liked that about 2014. Another thing I liked was joining HabitRPG, because it made me focus on taking action instead of dithering. As a result, I took some solid risks this year that paid off well. I also reached out to family and friends more often, and pushed myself to be more social than I have ever been.

There were things I didn’t like about 2014, especially spending two months of it without FunkyPlaid. I also lost my running mojo this year, which is sad because I miss it so much. And the referendum … well, I’m trying not to bring it up because I know it is a sore spot, but it was a momentous and difficult time to be here with so many people I know experiencing the gamut of emotions about the run-up and result. And I inadvertently had feelings about it too, even though I tried not to have them, even though I felt I did not deserve to have them.

Some people I know are saying good riddance to 2014, but I’m pouring 2014 a dram and smiling wryly at it as we toast. It deserves that much, at least.

Happy New Year.

Treasure in the Grassmarket.

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Esterbrook M2.

I’m not much of a shopper. Browsing endless racks of clothing, trying to find something in both my size and style, is something I avoid doing whenever possible. So holiday shopping becomes a game I play with myself: how quickly and painlessly can I find things I would want to give friends and family?

When I heard about the popup market in the Cowgate a few weeks ago, I thought it might offer me an easy way to do much of this shopping at once. It was sure to offer unique items I wouldn’t be able to find on my own, and all concentrated in one place. Problem solved.

Well, not really. I did find a few things there, but most of it wasn’t in the style of anyone I know. (Except for me: I did not know this about myself before the popup market but I am fascinated by bizarre taxidermy, especially of small animals wearing spectacles.)

I was lucky to be wandering around the market with a patient friend, who was also up for checking out whatever was going on in the Grassmarket. (Another market! In a market. Not shocking.) And as we were strolling and chatting our way through that second market, I spied one of the things that even a non-shopper such as myself has learned means Cool Stuff Might Be Here: the wooden-sided glass case.

These glass cases are usually filled with an odd assortment of costume jewellery, rusted pocket-knives, old tins of long-dried unguents, commemorative coins commemorating things no one cares about anymore, and pens. Yes, pens. Usually dented metal ballpoint pens, but still: pens.

So I have to look. And I hate shopping, and I hate browsing for things that I might buy, but I still look.

In this particular case, something caught my eye that wasn’t a dented metal ballpoint at all. It was a plastic box with gold lettering and something was inside it. The gold lettering read “Esterbrook” and I gasped as I read it.

Because I was not raised by wolves, I asked the stall owners if I could open the box and look at the pen. As I was trying to play it cool, my tone was somewhere between desperation and apathy, a teenaged boy’s mumbled squeak.

I would like to tell you that my hands weren’t shaking. After all, vintage Esterbrook fountain pens are not uncommon, and they’re not even all that fancy. But recently I became a first-time Esterbrook Dollar Pen owner and when I fell, I fell hard. So my hands were shaking, a little, as I removed the pen from the case and inspected it. “Mint condition” is too generous but it was certainly in good condition, and I’ll save you the nerdery around the specifics there.

Because I’ve been collecting pens for a number of years now, right about the time I am fondling a pen hard enough to consider buying it, a number pops into my head. That number is the most I would pay for the pen. Another thing pops into my head: the first word I would write with that pen, if it were mine, but that’s less relevant to the actual transaction portion of the experience.

So as I turned this cream-of-tomato-soup red pen over in my hands, the number popped into my head, and the word too, and then I realised there was also a number on a sticker on the plastic box the pen was inside and that number, that number, was a deliriously low number, the type of number not even as high as the number on a menu next to a fancy hamburger. And that was when I knew that this pen, this pen, was mine. The rest was a formality.

The word? Serendipity. Because shopping, as awful as it can be, can also contain moments of serendipity like this one. Plus “serendipity” is just one badass word to write with an Esterbrook M2 fountain pen.