Thursday, November 29, 2007

Do I not bleed?

I ran into an acquaintance at lunch today, and she told me she had a hard time talking to people. Since we had been talking for 10 minutes by that time, I must have had a skeptical expression on my face, and she quickly said "oh, not you..."

I think she meant I was easy to talk to, rather than the alternative explanation that I am not actually a person, so I'll take the compliment.

I knew what she meant. I have a hard time talking to people too.

Except for you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What I'm working on

1. The holiday party invitation for my workplace. This takes an inordinately long time each year, as multiple phone calls, emails, and approvals are required. But I love designing the invitation itself.

2. Compiling faculty publications for the December retreat, which involves a lot of copying and pasting from individual CVs to the aggregate document.

3. Copy editing an Editor's Page for a journal.

4. Copy editing a grant.

5. At home, reading Steve Martin's autobiography, which is excellent.

6. Attempting to get in some extra exercise in the form of dog walking.

7. Deciding whether the little tabletop tree is enough this year or whether I should put up the big tree, the idea of which exhausts me. (Not the decision; putting up the big tree.)

8. There must be more, but I can't think of anything else right now.

It's not that much. I was just reminded, because of a kind comment on an earlier post, of my first full-time job, which was working with institutionalized kids. We had fun every day but we also had difficult, sometimes terrible, times every day. My life now is calmer and much less stressful, which is necessary for my health. And I do feel that the work I do now is worthwhile, and I also feel I should go do more of it!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Books, jobs, and blogging brevity

Here I am, back at work after 6 days off, so I must necessarily keep this short.

I finished "The Darling" yesterday and I recommend it. At times it was a bit hard to get through, I think because the main character, who is narrating her own story, is sometimes either detached or not sympathetic. The story was interesting though -- Hannah is a 60's protester, underground, and emigrates to Liberia, where she marries, has children, and starts a chimpanzee sanctuary. The horrors of Liberia during that time period were also hard to read about, which imo is not a good reason not to read it... I thought it was a good book. If you're a Russell Banks fan, it's a must-read. If you're not a Russell Banks fan, become one. I recommend starting with either "The Sweet Hereafter" or "Affliction" although a lot of people would probably recommend "Rule of the Bone."

Now I'm reading Steve Martin's autobiography, "Born Standing Up." I just started it last night, so I can't really tell you much except that I have laughed already, even though it is not primarily comedy, but about practicing stand up comedy, and also about some of S. Martin's history. He's a fascinating guy; I expect to love this book. Which is why I ordered it as soon as it became available.

Not much else to report. Lots of work to do, so let me get back to it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

An interesting passage

Just read the following in Russell Banks' "The Darling":
I'm talking here about the difference between empathy and sympathy, between feeling for the other and feeling with the other. The distinction came to matter to me. It still does. When you abandon and betray those with whom you empathize, you're not abandoning or betraying anyone or anything that's as real as yourself. Taken to its extreme, perhaps even pathological, form, empathy is narcissism.
Ouch. That hits a little close to home for me, and I'm not sure what I think about it. I've always thought of myself as an empathetic person, most of the time. It suddenly came to me, after abandoning my novel, that this is one way in which my imagination runs -- in trying to understand and empathize with the feelings of other people. I've always been interested in human behavior, trying to understand the people around me. And I've also always been interested in the extremes of human behavior -- I want to know what turns someone into a serial killer, how people can form suicide pacts, why people join cults, etc. Part of this fascination, I suppose, is that I can't actually imagine any of this behavior myself. But I'm digressing from my main point.

I used to, before my depression was properly treated, genuinely feel the emotions that others were having. Even at the time, I knew that this was not helpful, because if someone is in the depths of despair, it doesn't help if you're there with them -- then they have to comfort you, in addition to needing comfort of their own. I still can be a bit of a mood sponge, or sometimes a mood reflector, in that others' anxieties sometime make me anxious and others' anger also makes me anxious. But mostly I now have what we like to call "boundaries" and I suppose, according to the passage above, that means that I sympathize now rather than empathizing. But I've always thought of empathy as feeling with the other, and I've always thought it was a good thing.

The comment about narcissism scares the crap out of me. I've been involved in different roles with several narcissists in my life, and they don't seem to feel any empathy at all for others. I've often thought that what separates me from them, and what draws them to me, in that "opposites attract" kind of way, is that I am extremely empathetic.

I'd be very interested in hearing other opinions on this -- not on me, but on the quotation and distinctions between empathy and sympathy.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

An excerpt from my abandoned novel

Do not laugh too much; I actually like this but I am probably nuts to post it in its raw form:

[Julia's car was towed, and she paid an exorbitant amount to redeem it.]

“It’s sad though,” Julia thought, as she drove toward the ferry, “how little leeway people give each other. When I was young, somehow people always believed me when I said I didn’t know something or didn’t mean to do something. I always got off with warning tickets, and it wasn’t because of my good looks. It was because of my youth and earnestness” (and indeed, she had had more good looks than she gave herself credit for). “And I’m still earnest, but now no more to be trusted than the next person. Oh I know, rules are meant for everybody, but I miss being believed, being trusted. I am, after all, even more trustworthy now than I was when I was young. But somehow age taints us, and we seem like we’re trying to escape justice even when we’re just trying to be honest and get a fair shake.”

Marta, misinterpreting Julia’s silence, apologized for criticizing her handling of the situation. “Are you mad?” she asked.

“Of course not,” replied Julia. “No, I was just thinking, do you ever miss, well, not being young exactly, and I don’t really mean this the way it sounds, but getting away with things? Being let off the hook? Now it seems we’re always on the hook, no matter what happens.”

“I do know what you mean,” Marta said. “I never got a traffic ticket until I was 40. When I did get one, it made me feel so old. So, I don’t know, irrelevant? Like the policeman was looking at me and seeing an old lady, someone you wouldn’t look at twice.”

“I actually like not being looked at,” Julia said. “I like the cloak of invisibility that’s around me now.” She had never been comfortable with constantly being evaluated by men when out in public. Catcalls and teasing had both been hard on her sensitive nature. But now she wondered, sadly, why the choice had to be between objectification and invisibility? Couldn’t there be something in the middle? It seemed natural that people were always sizing each other up, but why not a more holistic approach, and the realization that everyone had something to offer, even if it wasn’t sex or even love? But she supposed this kind of thinking was an effect of age itself. When she was young, she too was constantly evaluating men as to their suitability as partners. The difference was that she hadn’t based that evaluation on looks at all, or on money or ambition, not that she hadn’t been drawn to some attractive men. But attraction for her seemed to mean something entirely different than was meant by the rest of the world, and she found it hard to be so different, to feel so incomprehensible even to those to whom she was closest.

Your friend the lizard

Taken on Ocracoke Island a couple of years ago.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A novel decision

I'm trying this decision on for size -- if it doesn't fit, I'll amend.

Perhaps I seem wishy-washy to you. I often seem that way. It usually happens when I'm warring between what I want to do and what I think I should do.

After all, one "should" stick with the commitments one makes, right? But what if one has made a commitment that turns out to be inappropriate for them?

I have decided to stop work on my novel. I've enjoyed the process of writing, to a large extent, and I loved the whole "write a novel in a month" concept. But I was sitting here this morning, reading Russell Banks' The Darling, and knowing that writing will probably never be as important to me as reading, and knowing that I could never write a book as good as that one.

Of course, R. Banks has been writing for years, and I can hardly be said to have practiced my craft. But the thing is, writing novels isn't my craft. Writing blog posts is fun for me. And when I did write intensively in the past, I wrote poetry.

I haven't written any poetry since being on antidepressants, which I sometimes think is sad, and sometimes think is a reasonable trade-off for not being miserable all the time.

Right now, I'm going through some holiday blahs, which are largely short-winter-day blahs, have started on a new med -- yes, another chemistry experiment -- and do not want to spend my remaining three day weekend working on a novel. I want to be free to read and putter around and be creative in other ways, when I choose to, and spend time with the dogs and maybe even, oh I don't know, take them for a walk.

So that's it, I'm done, unless I change my mind after posting this. Sometimes when a decision is difficult, it's best to just choose one option and sit with it for a while.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A novel crisis

First, I'm up to 18,772 words.

Second, it has just occurred to me that I don't want to spend my entire next four days off writing in order to meet the 50,000 word count.

Third, I can't decide if the second item is what we call a "revelation" or what we call a "wimp-out."

Fourth, evidently rearranging one's living room furniture is not an effective way to make the decision implied in the third item.

18,008 words

Up from 16,444 just a little while ago.

This is one disjointed novel, I can tell you that. It is tres stream of consciousness. Then I get bored with my consciousness and stop mid-paragraph and change what I'm writing about. But the idea is to get a lot of ideas down, and then maybe after this crazy mania of writing is over, there will be something salvageable.

It's funny, just writing what I'm thinking about. It doesn't seem like work, more like talking someone's ear off. And yet no one is suffering!

16,444 words

Up from, oh, whatever I said in my last post. Progress!

We will continue to have updates throughout the day as the story develops. (Ha!)

A novel idea

Well, Thanksgiving is over so now I can go back to being cranky. No, seriously, now it's time to focus intensively on my novel, and you're going to help me! How, you ask? Oh, just by not being annoyed by brief posts throughout the next four days alerting you to my ever increasing word count. See, I'm way behind, as is my wont, and the novel's supposed to be done by the end of the month, so now I have to apply myself intensively to hit the deadline, as is also my wont. Why I ever thought I would write the required number of words each day is beyond me. I simply don't function that way. I do my best work when the deadline looms, as it is now doing.

Right now, my word count is 14,863, which is a lot, but nowhere near the required 50,000. So watch for frequent updates and feel free to send encouragement or even just root for me in your head -- I'm sure the good vibes will reach me somehow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Time to give thanks

I find that on Thanksgiving itself, there's a lot of running around and busyness, and I often don't manage to take time to feel give thanks for all that is good in my life. So I've decided to think about gratitude the day before Thanksgiving. Since I recently did a birthday gratitude spiel, I won't list everything again.

I do have some thoughts on gratitude, however. I'm sensitive to those who don't feel that they have much to be grateful for on the holiday. I've had some years when I felt the same way. Sometimes I would recognize the good in my life, but the bad would seem to outweigh it enough that I couldn't manage any feeling of gratitude.

At one point in my life, a friend and I took a course through the Unity Church (yes, I have been involved with every known religion, why do you ask?) which studied Louise Hay's book "You Can Heal Your Life." As you might guess from the title, this is a very new agey book and, in retrospect, it had serious flaws. At the time, though, I learned a lot from it. One thing I learned was the power of positive affirmations, and I used these to good effect in healing a lot of my negative thinking. But one thing that always stuck with me was what Hay said about gratitude: if you can't muster anything, then go all the way down to the basics -- if you have indoor plumbing, be grateful for that. It sounds silly, but think about it seriously. I'm extremely grateful for indoor plumbing -- and so can you (yes, I'm reading Stephen Colbert's book, another thing for which I'm grateful).

Take it down to basics, and most people have a lot to be grateful for. I'm glad I'm alive, which is the most basic thing of all.

And for those who are struggling during this holiday season, I do understand. I struggle with the holidays myself. My thoughts are with you. Sometimes all we can manage is to grit our teeth and endure, and if you can manage that, give yourself a pat on the back -- you're doing a good job.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It's hard to have a midlife crisis...

...when you are eating cake. Free cake. As I always say, I don't have to pay for it, bwahahahaha.

My birthday celebration was lovely and actually went from Friday through last night. Friday night my friends took me to see Marvin Hamlisch, on whom I had a crush when I was a teenager. At that time, he had just written the music for Chorus Line and was a much-loved regular on the talk show circuit. As a kid, my mom and brother and I would all watch the after-school talk shows, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Dinah Shore. Since I told you all my age yesterday, I'm not too worried about dating myself today. M. Hamlisch was always very polite and charming, and played the piano brilliantly. I had delusions of grandeur about my piano playing, so I was especially interested in a pianist who had struck it big.

I didn't know what to expect from the show on Friday, but it was excellent. He played the piano, he told funny stories, he complimented Charlottesville a lot, and he had a vocalist with him (his own singing voice is passable, but doesn't do justice to his melodies). He was very personable and the show was great.

Saturday a friend took me out to dinner, and then last night we had cake and ice cream. So it was a birthday weekend instead of just one day, and it was a really nice celebration.

Today life is back to normal, and normal is pretty damn good, although there's no doubt that I haven't seen the last of the midlife crisis. Plus and also, it is absolutely gorgeous outside. I almost didn't come back from lunch. But like a good employee, I did return, and now like a good employee, I shall get back to work.

Monday, November 19, 2007

It's my birthday...

...and I'll have a midlife crisis if I want to.

I like to have my crises the year before the big "decade" birthdays (yes, "like" is a strong word). This year I'm 49. Somehow I really feel like I'm not young anymore. And yet most days I feel like I'm around 12 and just impersonating an adult.

The crisis is just about feeling old and being scared of, well, dying. Which hopefully isn't going to happen anytime soon, but I would like to find a way of grappling with this fear and coming to some kind of healthy acceptance of death, if that's at all possible. And it's hard to find evidence that it is, outside of religion.

As far as my life goes, I'm pretty happy. I love my home, animals, friends, and family. I love my job and, although I'm not a very ambitious person, I'm happy with where I am in my career.

I have some health issues that I deal with, but everything is under control right now.

So the midlife crisis is a lot more about fear of the future than regret for the past or present. Maybe I just need to reassure myself that I always handle whatever comes my way, and I'll continue to be able to do that in the future. And then just let it go... always the tricky part!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

My new office

I did manage to take some pictures of my new office last week. There's no way to get the whole office into one picture because it is so vast -- no, actually, because of the way it's shaped. Here is a shot of my computer desk. I really didn't realize how crowded I had already made it until I saw this picture.

In contrast, this is my editing desk -- when only editing on paper will do. Which is most of the time; it's my preferred way of working. I hope you are noticing the two enormous windows I now have. This is the largest, most private office I've ever had.

The editing desk has to be neat, almost spare. I always "clear the decks" before editing. I was thinking of taking the second desk out of my office and putting a seating area there, where I could work as I do at home, lounging around on overstuffed furniture. This could still happen.

And now, a picture from home, since it's kind of weird to be posting about one's new office on the weekend (hey, think of it as my little way of getting revved up for the week ahead). This is my shadow box, which I noticed this morning was even more shadowy than usual. Don't look too closely or you will see that, like everything else in my house right now, it needs dusting.

Friday, November 16, 2007


I do love squirrels. Here are some pix. The first one is a Jamestown squirrel, but the rest are local, I believe.

What is better than when they scurry down trees, head first? Can you imagine doing such a thing? They are amazing athletes!

This little squirrel should be writing her novel. But instead she is inventing silly blog posts.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Even geniuses aren't always geniuses

I found Joel Achenbach's blog post today, on genius, rather inspirational. It gives me hope to think that even though my novel is an abomination, I might still have some words in my head that wouldn't be...
The problem with "genius" is that it doesn't give the great talents their due for working hard and plodding through difficult problems and taking chances and knowing which ideas to dump and which to deliver. Geniuses create the same way total ding-dongs create. Geniuses still have to put on their paint one stroke at a time.

Read the entire article.

PS No, I'm not having delusions of grandeur. I'm having delusions of time-wasting, which is why I found the article hopeful.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Jamestown: Birds

Yesterday I went to Jamestown with a friend. I've been wanting to go there sometime during this 400th anniversary year. I was waiting for a good weekend in the fall, but it was either too hot or I was busy with something else. But yesterday it was time.

I visited there once years ago, when I was a child, but the place has been completely re-done since then. And I only remember the re-creation part, not the actual island itself where the US Park Service site is located. It was impressive to be standing on the actual ground where the fort and then the town existed.

I took pictures for the first time in a week, and it felt really good. I had been feeling lopsided with all the writing and editing, and feeling like generally I was becoming all wordy and less visual. So it was a pleasure to have a chance to take some photos, and there was a lot of wildlife on the island. I have a few pictures of the site itself, but I'll save those for another time.

First, your friend the woodpecker. I'm not sure what kind he or she is (I should know, but I don't):

We were driving from the NPS site to the re-created village site when I spotted this guy, and begged my friend to pull the car over. I believe this to be a great blue heron.

And this guy was perching on some rocks just past where the Jamestown ships are located. I think he's some kind of heron with a short neck:

I call this one "Geese in Ruins." For some reason, this cracks me up. These geese were on Jamestown island, among the ruins of, I believe, the plantation that was there after the town folded.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Something you should probably know about me

I love squirrels. I love everything about them, especially the fact that they are ubiquitous.

I especially like it when they sit up on their hind legs.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Freedom Friday

What better way to celebrate being off from work than to publish a blog post gloating about it??? So far, I have slept late, had a leisurely breakfast, and met with my painter while still in my bathrobe. Then I felt the urge to type.

I watched the remainder of the last season of Six Feet Under last night, which was great, of course. I thought I would be sad when it was over, but I had become so totally enthralled by it that it's something of a relief to be a free woman again. I'm sure I'll get hooked on something else soon enough, but I really don't have any shows in mind at this time, so for a while I will not be a slave to those disks appearing in my mailbox. I'll still watch them, but at my convenience -- I won't feel compelled to watch them the second they arrive!

I am a couple of days behind on my novel at this point. The 10 hour work days do make it hard to come home and write, although I managed it on Monday and Tuesday. I hope to catch up on my word counts over the -- did I mention -- LONG WEEKEND. And to that end, I must bid you all adieu for now.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Progress on a much-disliked project

Yesterday I devoted myself to a project at work that I intensely dislike, updating the directory. There are a few reasons that I hate it, but the biggest one is probably that it's never done, never ever perfect and complete. The second I update it, someone quits, or moves, or is hired, or gets a new phone number or email alias... well, you get the idea. It's ghastly. Of course I make it a much bigger deal in my mind than it actually is, and I put off doing it so that it's hanging over my head for a while, which makes me hate it more... well, you get that idea too. I used a few anti-procrastination tricks to get myself to finally do it, although it was probably the "motivating factor" of being able to change offices when I was finished that finally got me going.

Naturally, I did nothing else all day, including blogging or working on my novel. I love to say "working on my novel" though, so I'm pretty sure I'll get back to it tonight. Events were conspiring against me yesterday, for on top of a day o' drudgery, a Six Feet Under disk was waiting in my mailbox -- so I had to watch all 3 episodes immediately, because we are rocketing toward the conclusion and I can hardly stand the waiting time to get new disks at this point.

Tomorrow is the reward for my first week of working 4 10-hour days -- Friday off! Somehow 3 day weekends are so much more satisfying than 2 day weekends!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

New schedule

So I'm working 4 10-hour days a week now. The benefit of this is that I will have 3 days off each week. The drawback is that my schedule now is somewhat dull, especially on top of writing a novel this month.

Basically, on work days, I get up early (so far so good!), feed the animals, get ready for work, work for 10.5 long hours (there is no free lunch in our "right to work" state), return home, feed the animals, write my 1667 words for the day, and go to bed. That's it, Monday through Thursday.

I'll still try to regale you with clever posts but nothing is happening to me. My house is still being transformed, though, and soon there will be pictures -- so you can look forward to that. And I can look forward to that! it means that I will take a picture, which I haven't done in a week or so. And my house will look brand new!

I'm not complaining about the work week -- I love the 4 days on, 3 days off concept DEEPLY. But when am I going to think up fascinating blog posts? That is the question.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Just a quick post

I only have a few minutes, but I thought I'd write a Monday post just to say that I'm alive. The novel writing is really taking up a fair amount of time! Plus and also, my work schedule is changing and I've been very busy.

Re: novel writing: I realize the biggest block I need to get past is my fear of being boring. (I may have mentioned that before. Sorry if I'm boring you.) So I usually begin my writing sessions writing some real drivel, not that I mean to, just that I can't seem to help it. By the end of each session, I've been writing something I wanted to, telling a story or showing a scene that I like. I am not rereading anything until the month is over, so each day is a new beginning, as they say. I am hoping that after a few more days of writing I can get over my need to be prosaic in my prose. I have to just write *through* the boredom. Argh.

Yesterday I went and had my eyebrows ripped off at the Hair Cuttery. Well, not the entire eyebrows, of course, but it felt like that. Every time I go, I question my preference for waxing over plucking, and I think it's just that waxing is quick and -- this is the most important part -- someone else does it. Because the HC is in the same shopping center as the supermarket, I can always be seen skulking around in there afterward, embarrassed by my bright puffy red brows. But by the next day I look mahvelous dahlink.

You can see I really didn't have any good ideas for posting today!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Ah, the creative life

Don't worry, I'm not going to go all "creative genius" on you. Especially since the first night of writing (for National Novel Writing Month) made it absolutely clear that I'm not one. I had fun, though, and the time passed without my realizing it. I made several false starts, which I left in, as we're not supposed to edit until the month is over. I kept finding that despite my best intentions, I returned to writing about myself, albeit an idealized version of myself. Or maybe "idealized" is the wrong word. Anyway, the main character seems to have a lot of me in her. I'm hoping I can fix that, as I really want to just make things up, just create characters and situations and conversations and thoughts that simply weren't there before. Is that so wrongh?

This week, I had to make a big decision about my work schedule, and I was having a lot of trouble with it because I was essentially forcing myself to be "realistic" which meant making a different choice than the one I wanted to make. I was told that I could choose to have a four-day work week and work 10-hour days. But I have had an enormous amount of trouble getting here early in the morning (I have flex hours now) and I would have to get here early to make the 4-day week work. So I kept getting "confused" about the decision because I wasn't allowing myself to choose what I really want: seriously, 4 days on, 3 days off? It's a no-brainer. Today I realized that all I had to do was figure out the schedule and stick to it, and I can do that if I choose to. If I find that it's just not working for some reason, I can go back to my boss and propose another change.

What do the two paragraphs above have to do with each other? I think when we open ourselves up creatively, it can seep into lots of different corners of our lives. (Ew, seeping...) I realized that I was imposing a lot of limitations on myself and the work decision, which I think were lifted when I allowed myself to look at things in a different way. Or something like that. Hey, I said I wasn't going to go all "creative genius" on you!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

It's November!

Can you believe it's November already? I am personally in shock. I think the fall heat wave threw me off, and now it's winter.

Last night was, of course, Halloween and the dogs and I had fun handing out candy -- but as usual I purchased much more than I needed (to my coworkers' benefit). We often have a lot more kids than we had last night. The dogs love Halloween -- small people come to the door! Groups of them! Although I think there was some dysfunctional behavior, in that their hysterical barking as kids walked by was probably daunting to some...

Tonight I begin my novel. Hmmm, there's a sentence I've never said before. Last night I dreamed I had laryngitis -- how transparent of me. I don't really need to "find my voice" to write this month, I just need to keep it fun and interesting. I've been waffling between writing about my life, or maybe a fantasy version of my life, or just completely making things up and I really, really want to just make stuff up -- somewhat realistic stuff, though, I'm not writing science fiction and you can't make me.

Come on, it's not too late to decide that this novel-writing month o' fun is for you! Just start your novel tonight, like I am.