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.

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.)

This Week and Other Weeks

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Life

I have tried to write this several times now. It never goes well. I find unsettling analogies, or take refuge in bluntness, or just pretend the thing that happened didn’t happen at all so I can get through the first paragraph. But it happened. And it derailed the tail-end of my spring completely.

I keep thinking that I will be ready to write about it, and then I will, and then these entries (which were supposed to be weekly status updates, and nothing more) won’t loom in my to-do list like horrible chores.

But I am still not ready to write about it, the thing that happened, and so I’ll just say that at the start of May one of our cats died and he was so much more than “one of our cats” and it was so much worse than I imagined it could be and it continues to hurt every day and I don’t want to write anything more about it so we’ll just move on from here.

Okay? Okay.

The thing that happened disrupted everything. Because I let it, and because my everything was already so precarious. So any good tracks I was on, consider those derailed. Any good habits I had forged, consider those discarded.

Rage, even now, two months past, blindsides me. The smallest things irritate me past rational points. Most social media channels are unbearable not because they have changed but because I have. I don’t know if I will get my old self back.

I don’t know if I want my old self back.

The strangest part of grief is the compulsion to keep pressing myself against the serrated edge of his absence. I am mostly over that phase now but sometimes it comes over me, the need to prod that wound, like I still don’t believe it, so that the pain will make me believe it.

I still don’t believe it.

But I make myself believe it.

Before the thing that happened, I had planned to travel to the States in June to celebrate a milestone in my mother’s life. When the thing happened, the trip carried another weight: I needed to escape, both geographically and mentally.

And then right before I left our other cat had surgery for a fibrosarcoma on her back. She’s doing fine for now.

Grief and worry have a way of clouding memory but here’s some of what I remember of my life from the past few months.

Work

Not much to report on JDB1745, and this will likely continue through the end of the year. There will be small refinements to make but FunkyPlaid must focus on finishing his thesis now so we can’t undertake any major movements. I’m squirrelling away all sorts of ideas for the next phase of our project, and the more I do, the more I look forward to working on it.

The weekend gig is more intense project-wise over the summer, plus many folks are away on leave, so I feel more isolated than usual. I continue to struggle with the balance of wanting to throw myself completely into a job and only being there three days a week.

Writing

The guest post I wrote for Cat Rambo’s blog on motivational tools for writers was published. The timing was darkly amusing; my own writerly motivation had ground to a halt.

But now I am recovering, and I am currently working on two projects:

  1. Assembling some short stories together into chapbook form.
  2. Writing a short comedic piece for the Book Festival. Illicit Ink will present a show called “Happily Never After” for Jura Unbound and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

Wellness

Misfit changed their app and I no longer have a weekly tally of points, so here I’ll start tracking how many days in the last week I hit my fitness goal: 2. Not great.

In April, May, and June I was around the 2-3 days per week mark. One day in May I somehow managed almost twice my goal and my personal best since I started using my Shine by having a normal workday but tacking on a social event in the evening that was 1.5 miles away.

So yeah. I need more exercise.

Media

Reading

Since the end of March I’ve read some good books, fiction unless otherwise specified:

  • “The Bees” by Laline Paull
  • “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig (memoir about depression)
  • “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler
  • “The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion” by Elle Luna (figuring out what you want to do with your life, then following through)
  • “All My Puny Sorrows” by Miriam Toews
  • “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

And that leaves me at 11 books this year. I will have to seriously hustle to make my goal of 50.

Listening

I am giving Apple Music a whirl. So far I love the playlists it suggests for me but it doesn’t have built-in scrobbling capabilities like Rdio or Spotify. For those of us who love tracking what we listen to with Last.fm, that is a disappointment.

My top artists for the past three months:

  1. Chouchou
  2. Ratatat
  3. Louis Armstrong

A friend made a Neo80s mixtape (mixCD?) that I’ve been enjoying too. Lots of M83, White Lies, HAIM, Grimes … really good stuff.

How do I not have a podcast section? I’ll fix that now. My top podcast listens for the past three months (and I am stealing the blurbs from their websites):

  1. Judge John Hodgman: You might know John Hodgman as the PC from those Apple commercials but those are the least of his comedic accomplishments. His podcast is laugh-out-loud funny as well as also thoughtful and interesting.
  2. RISK!: Listen to real people tell true stories. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes disturbing, always intriguing. Like The Moth’s more worrisome cousin.
  3. Mystery Show: I never thought I would care enough about Jake Gyllenhaal’s height to listen to a 40-minute podcast about it. Then I heard Mystery Show.

Playing

  • 80 Days (videogame, tablet): I am not good at this game, probably because of the timed element, but I keep going back to it for the interactive story parts. I still have not made it around the world in 80 days. Will I ever? Who knows.
  • Splendor (boardgame, 2-4 players): FunkyPlaid taught me how to play this and I think I like it. It feels similar in some ways to Dominion, which I love and don’t play nearly enough. I’d like to play it again.
  • Gone Home (videogame, desktop): I finally purchased this on Steam when it was on sale and played through in a few hours. The plot and execution were both excellent, and the experience was worth much more than the price I paid.
  • Fallout Shelter (videogame, tablet): I tried. I really did. But I got so bored.

Watching

Television

FunkyPlaid and I finished “Les Revenants” at the end of April and went on to “Orphan Black”. The first two seasons were so good; the third became unwatchable for me. We stalled out partway through and finished up the season of “Outlander” instead. As of last night we are on the second season of “House of Cards” (US version).

I stopped watching “Game of Thrones” after the infamous episode with Ramsay and Sansa’s wedding night. With that source material and that cast and that budget, there is no excuse for lazy writing. Later I heard that the show has diverged even more from the books, so that’s probably it for me.

Film

I finally saw the film “What We Do in the Shadows” on the plane ride to the States, which was even better than I thought it would be. If you like mockumentaries and Flight of the Conchords, don’t miss this.

Stage

Internetting

I Faved This

You Faved This

Ink o’ the Week

Daily carry

  • Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-Jaku: I raved about this ink before and my excitement has not abated. It is a perfect ink in my Lamy 2000. If you are looking for a saturated blue-green with ridiculous amounts of shading, try this one.
  • Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-Budo: This is in my new Pilot Metropolitan, a gift from a pen-loving friend, which surprised me with how well it writes. Despite the fine nib the Yama-Budo provides a nice shading between dark fuchsia to light burgundy. It is an elegant ink.

Wish list

Photo credit: my Instagram.

Scotland As an Xbox Game by Andrew C. Ferguson

Audio

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. Is it safe now? I hope so. Or maybe I don’t …

This is Andrew C. Ferguson reading his poem “Scotland As an Xbox Game” with a teeny contribution from me. Tell us what you think in the comments.

Pop music.

Video

Warning: this video is not safe for … anything, really. I don’t know. It makes me laugh so hard I can’t breathe.

So yesterday I listened to the entire actual song of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” and blood did not seep out of my eyes. It’s not a horrible song, just a mediocre pop-ballad thing. I think the video is idiotic, but when parodies like this exist, I can’t complain too loudly.

Sharks recently mentioned Pop Danthology 2013, and while I am glad I watched it, I’ve never been so glad to see Justin Timberlake in all my life. His latest album isn’t doing much for me, but I’d rather listen to JT than the rest of the current pop stars.

Except for Lorde. If you want a fantastic pop record of 2013, Lorde’s “Pure Heroine” is it.

Writing from: bed. Listening to: both cats snoring, and they’re just out of sync. How do I sync them up? Please send me your tips.