Day 13 of Project 365: It’s snowing.

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2016-01-13

“Snow!” screamed the child in the street. I glanced out at our garden and saw the wet flakes glopping down. They wouldn’t stick. They didn’t last. Magical all the same.

I’ve fancied myself a minimalist before, although you wouldn’t know it for all the things I have accumulated, spread out across continents. Objects loom larger in memory, just like the they do in the mirror’s warning, pulsing with intention: a small leather notebook in a basement, a grandfather clock in a storage unit, a doll-house in an attic.

Some books reached escape velocity today, trajectories burning off into used bookstores. My face was wet before the snow began; I had sold off my children to the perennially unimpressed. So they’re no longer mine, and not yet someone else’s. Frozen above, puddles below, and something magical and misunderstood in between.

Writing from: a drowsy lounge in Edinburgh. Listening to: “The Glass Shelter and the View” by Seas of Years.

Day 5 of Project 365: Culling the book herd.

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2016-01-05 14.44.17

Yesterday I culled 57 books from my personal library. I’m deep in the throes of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying” and applying her principles as best I can. Kondo writes that she keeps only about 30 books in her collection at any one time, but later on in the book she says that “you need to create your own tidying method with your own standards.” So my own standards include a few more than 30 books, but not the ridiculous number I’ve been hoarding for years.

I brought a number of unread books to Scotland because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get them through the public library system. That happened to be good judgement on my part … if I had made more time for reading and if I hadn’t accumulated any additional volumes. 2016 will be a year of catching up on my to-read pile.

FunkyPlaid furrowed his brow and made unhappy noises at the burgeoning stacks of books I will sell or donate, but he too is working on winnowing before our migration. Maybe not his books, though. That might be a step too far.

Tell me about a book you own that you’d never, ever give away.

Waiting for perfection.

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Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work

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

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

Writing

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

Wellness

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

Media

Reading

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

Listening

Music

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

Podcasts

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

Playing

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

Watching

Television

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

Film

Stage

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

Internetting

I Faved This

You Faved This

Ink o’ the Week

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

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

Review: Eleanor and Park

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

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

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

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

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

View all my reviews

This Week and Last Month

In the manor garden
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Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can do strange things, believe me.

Work

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

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

Writing

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

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

Wellness

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

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

Media

Reading

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

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

Listening

Music

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

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

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

Podcasts

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

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

Playing

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

Watching

Television

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

Film

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

Stage

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

Internetting

I Faved This

You Faved This

Ink o’ the Week

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

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