Let’s read some books!

The chemotherapy-induced neuropathy in my hands has forced me to make a lot of changes. I love cooking and baking, doing arts and crafts, and playing video games, but I haven’t been able to do those things since my first treatment. To keep myself busy, I’ve had to fill my time with some of my older hobbies that I haven’t made as much time for over the past few years.  Mostly, I’ve been reading.

Right now, reading is exactly what I need.  I’ve been avoiding physical books because they’re hard for me to hang on to, but my iPad mini and Kindle are easy on my hands.  Books are also a great value for entertainment media: even if I’ve spent a bit more than what I should on them recently it’s pretty tough to get yourself into financial trouble by buying books, especially since I’m a fairly slow reader.  Even better for my budget right now is the fact that I’m able to borrow free ebooks from the library.  It’s a little tough to wait for the numerous holds on popular titles, but easy and free are worth it.

As I said above, I haven’t spent a lot of time reading books over the past few years.  I’m currently on track to read 7 books in April which is, on average, a little more than I’ve read per year since I graduated university.  This has definitely been a source of embarrassment. I’ve always seen myself as a reader and for most of my youth, reading was my main hobby. As I got older, I slowly found myself reading published books for fun less often. I think there were several reasons for this.  Mostly, I struggled with finding my identity as an adult reader. With world of books being so enormous, I had trouble finding well-written, contemporary fiction that suited my taste and I didn’t always enjoy slogging through well-known classics.  I would stick with one or two authors for awhile and then have no idea where to go when I had read all of their work that interested me.

University also took a lot of the fun out of reading.  As a history major I would often have upwards of 600 pages of reading (or more, especially if it was time for term papers) per week. It wasn’t fun, easy reading: so much academic writing is dry and boring and remarkably difficult to slog through, even if the subject matter is interesting. The last thing I wanted to do with my free time was read more, even if reading fiction was more fun than reading academic non-fiction.

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I started my long and strange journey of being intentionally single and trying new things.  I started playing video games. Video games led me down a path toward a lot of new (to me) media, like manga and anime. For a good while, I wanted to immerse myself in those new interests and give myself the time to enjoy them. This didn’t leave me with a lot of room for reading published books (though I did read lots of fanfiction, but that’s another story for another day).  It’s hard for me to admit it, but books just sat on the back burner for awhile.

Being absorbed in reading again has been wonderful, like settling in for a lovely afternoon with an old friend.  The ONTD reading challenge that I decided to participate in has been especially fantastic.  I have the freedom to choose any book that fits each month’s theme, but I’m also forced to try out authors and genres that I normally wouldn’t consider reading on my own.  Best of all, the participants all make loads of recommendations each month, which has helped me make some fun new discoveries!

In some ways, one of my greatest struggles as an adult has been balancing my free time.  There are so many different activities that bring me joy that I often have trouble choosing what I should do on any given day.  I hope that once my condition improves and I return to work that I’ll be able to make room in my life to continue reading.  I won’t have as much time as I do now, but I’ve realized that it’s a hobby I should keep up with.  I certainly have enough recommendations to keep me going for a good long while!

Are there any interests or hobbies that you aren’t making enough time for?  What books are you reading right now?  Let me know in the comments!

Advertisements

Me and being intentionally single

I was thinking the other day about how I’ve never really talked about being single for seven years. Yes, before I met my current boyfriend, who I’ve been involved with for almost four years now, I was intentionally single for over seven years. I know that the people around me noticed that I was single for a long time, but I don’t think anyone realized that I was doing it on purpose. I’d guess that many assumed I was single due to a lack of opportunities, but that’s actually not correct. I did have a few offers for set-ups and other opportunities; however, during those years, being single was the right thing for me.

I started my single journey when I was 26. I was working on my Masters degree and I had just gotten out of an “it’s complicated” that was toxic and bad for my self esteem (which has always been remarkably low regardless). At the time, I was spending a lot of time thinking about my history with relationships. I noticed that, despite having been involed with one person or another for over 10 years with no real breaks, all of my relationships and flirtations had either ended badly or had been completely unsatisfying. I also came to understand that I was the common denominator in these shitty romantic encounters and that I was making some consistent errors, but I wasn’t able to identify exactly where I was going wrong.

Once I realized that I was making all kinds of bad relationship decisions, I decided that I needed to be alone for awhile. I had always been a hypocritical proponent of taking breaks between relationships: I thought it was a great idea, but would never actually do it myself. I had also been a hypocritical proponent of being alone in general. I am definitely a person who has always needed (and enjoyed) spending a lot of time alone day-to-day, but I had no idea to how be alone without the support and comfort of a romantic partner in the background.

My original plan at the time was to avoid any romantic entanglements until after I finished my Masters degree. I thought that this would be enough time to figure a few things out and help me keep my life drama free while I finished up at school. Once I got a job and figured out where I would be living, I would start my romantic life again. Unfortunately, after finishing graduate school, I was never quite able to make it to the place I wanted to be professionally. I was only ever able to get short term contract jobs and in between those contacts I was mostly stuck at home and volunteering a few hours a week.

Staying single had started off as a way for me to take a break and figure things out, but as my career stalled it became a necessity. In my late 20s and early 30s, I wanted to date an adult: someone with a full time job and at least a little ambition. With my career floundering, I felt like I couldn’t start dating again — how could I possibly set criteria for potential partners that I couldn’t meet myself? I knew that I couldn’t have the kind of relationship that I wanted to have if I couldn’t get some traction with my career.

It probably sounds like I was forcing myself to stay single, but in reality I was happy being on my own. I had, for many years, been certain that I didn’t want to have children, which allowed me the freedom of not worrying about finding a stable relationship by a certain age. I was also enjoying the astonishing lack of drama in my life. For a great deal of my early and mid-20s, I was bombarded with oodles of family and relationship drama. Most of my romantic relationships weren’t particularly stable and generally caused me a lot of stress; my parents’ split was difficult; my grandparents all became ill and died in the span of 8 years. During the time I was single, my life was relatively stable, apart from the difficulties in my career.

And I learned a lot about life and about myself while I was single. It was an enormous period of personal growth for me and I couldn’t have accomplished even half of it had I been in a relationship. I finished my Masters degree; I moved to Alberta on 10 days’ notice by myself and lived and worked there for a year; I learned how to play video games and all about Japanese culture and manga and anime; I read loads of books and manga; I watched loads of TV series, movies and anime; I learned how to cook, to bake, to knit; I wrote thousands of words for my blog; I participated in writing challenges; I learned about feminism and social justice; I learned how to set goals and how to work on myself.

Most importantly, by a long shot, I learned how to be emotionally independent. Before starting that journey, I couldn’t deal with any of my problems on my own. If something bad happened, I couldn’t cope and needed to tell everyone I knew about it. I couldn’t help myself — I just didn’t know how to manage my emotional pain and struggle. Being single for so long taught me how to reach inward, how to keep my own secrets, and when it’s appropriate to reach out for help.

The only thing I wasn’t able to work out was what I was doing wrong in my relationships — I didn’t learn that until awhile after I met my current boyfriend. I’m not sure I’ll have the courage to write about that any time soon, but you never know! What I do know for sure is that being single for seven years is one of the best things I have ever done for myself. No regrets whatsoever.

Me and Burning Out

I’m burning out. After months of propping myself up, telling myself that everything is going to be okay, and a few weeks of struggling with a new puppy, I’m starting to get exhausted in a way that I don’t know how to recover from. This is a dangerous place for me because it’s prime depression ground. I know that after I was first diagnosed with cancer I entered a kind of hyper-vigilant phase. This often happens to me during times of personal or family crisis. I step up, I do what needs to be done and I manage. I take care of whoever needs taking care of, I provide the shoulder to cry on, I neglect myself.

Generally speaking, this kind of behaviour isn’t particularly destructive. Most of us will have to step up and manage personal crises, care for loved ones etc… and there will always be some combination of adrenaline or sense of personal duty to keep us going. The problem is, eventually that runs out — or at least it does for me. In 2013-2014, when I had to act as a caregiver for my mother, I looked after everything. I did all the housework, cooking, driving to and from appointments, grocery shopping and ran all the errands. I also went back to school part time and managed my coursework. It was familiar territory for me in many ways, because I also had to care a great deal for two of my grandparents when I was in my 20s, but it was difficult. It’s never easy to see your parents suffering — it is the definitive indicator of your finally becoming an independent adult. I think, no matter how old we get, we tend to see our parents as people who should be looking after us and not the other way around.

My mother needed surgery and once she began to recover from that, I truly began to fall apart. I fell down into a deep, depressive pit and could not claw my way out: I spent about 18 months playing Final Fantasy XIV (the MMO sickness finally hit me) and taking one easy course in my certificate program at a time. I convinced myself that as long as I could complete the courses, I was totally fine.

I wasn’t totally fine. I was anything but totally fine. I needed help and (probably) medication. While depression is a consistent issue for me, I have had sustained periods where my depression worsens to the point of my not being able to function. Over the years I’ve come to recognize that significant burnout is one of my major triggers. A crisis occurs, I step up and go at it until I run out of steam, and then I fall apart.

So, right now, I’m a little terrified. My dog, Daisy, died on October 20, 2017. Two weeks later, during the first week of November 2017, I was hospitalized. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with cancer. By the end of 2017, I had had a port installed and started chemotherapy. Despite some fairly minor fear and nervousness, I have stood up and faced these issues head on. I haven’t been on the floor crying, as some expected me to be. I’ve been productive and I’ve made an effort to enjoy myself, despite side effects that limit what I can do with my spare time.

But then we were stupid and we got a puppy. The greatest piece of advice I could ever offer someone right now is that you should not get a puppy when there are things going on in your life that are stressful and potentially life-changing. People will always tell you that puppies are hard, but reading/hearing that and then actually living it are two totally different things. Puppies are much more difficult than anyone will ever tell you and the fatigue from cancer treatment certainly doesn’t make things any easier and any other major stressors in your life won’t help you either.

When we first got Frankie, I went through another short phase of hyper-vigilance. My adrenaline got going and I was able to manage everything again. I trained her when I was able, became much more mobile, and generally felt physically stronger. A few bad days later, however, and I’m starting to feel all that strength leaving me. I just don’t have the energy right now to sustain the kind of consistency that Frankie needs. I’m tired and I’m sick and I get lazy sometimes.

I know that things will get better with Frankie and I know that, eventually, we will bond properly and I will love her more than anything, but I’m scared right now that all of this new stress might push me somewhere that I don’t want to go. I’m going to make an appointment with my social worker as soon as I can so that I can talk with her about how to avoid falling into another dark and awful pit. I’m hoping that talking about it with a professional will help me a great deal. I think also, a little vacation will help. Next week, my boyfriend is coming for a visit and, hopefully, that will be a nice break where I can be a little selfish for a few days and recharge my batteries.

4 things I love about blogging

As a follow-up to last week’s post on 4 reasons why I hate personal blogging, I wanted to spend some time discussing why I love personal blogging.  Just for fun, here’s another listicle where the items are much longer than they should be.

1. I love to write

I’ve always loved writing and, for the most part, I’ve always written.  As I said in last week’s post, I’ve kept some sort of personal blog for over 20 years now.  Aside from that, I have written in many other formats: research papers, school newspaper articles, legal reports for probate courts, archival finding aids, essays, literary criticism, short stories, tip sheets and training materials, marketing materials, project plans, correspondence, and policies and procedures.  There are probably a few more items in there, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Whether for personal, academic, or professional tasks, I have written a great deal over the course of my life.  Writing is, without doubt, my preferred means of communication.  Of course, some of that writing has been less fun to slog through, but if I’m working on a project that requires writing, that will probably be my favourite part.  Essay and report writing, in particular, have always been the most fun types of writing for me.  Though I have tried, I’ve never much liked writing fiction or poetry — I’ve never seen myself as a person with a great creative imagination.  I’m best at reporting what I know, whether it be through research or personal experience.

2. Blogging allows me to keep my skills fresh and make improvements in my style

To be good at writing, you need to practice.  My current job is quite writing heavy, as I need to produce some kind of reporting product for most of my research files; however, those reports are heavily templated and rigid in terms of language and formatting.  Keeping a personal blog allows me to continue writing in a way that helps me get out of the formats I need to stick with at work.  Personal blogging has also helped me to clean up some of my bad habits over the years.  For example, I will probably always be a rambler and I will always use too many adverbs, but proofreading my blogs over the years has stopped me from writing “really” every few sentences (or more).

3. It provides me with a place to express my views and opinions, while providing me with a record of myself and my feelings during a particular time.

Even if reading through old posts later on often makes me cringe.

4. Blogging has helped me to become a more adaptable writer

At my current job, I have seen firsthand that many smart university graduates can struggle with transitioning their writing from a style that works for academia into a style that works in a professional setting.  This has never been a problem for me, because I’ve always written outside of what was required of me at school.  Even if it was just to rant about hassles or drama in my personal life, being able to structure and write something informal that wasn’t a research paper has always been useful.

I also believe that the more often you write and the more different types of writing projects you take on, the less attached you are to one particular style.  Of course, all writers will have their own preferences in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure (hopefully they have a good grasp on both), but the best writers, in my opinion, are able to relax their own preferences and adapt to the task at hand.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this miniseries on what I love and hate about blogging.  Do you enjoy writing in your free time?  Is it one of your least favourite things to do?  I’d love to hear about your experiences with writing or blogging!

 

4 things I hate about blogging

In my next two regular posts I want to spend some time discussing what I like and dislike about personal blogging. Since I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment with the new puppy at home, I’d like to vent a few of my frustrations before focusing on the positive aspects of what I’m doing and why I enjoy it so much. I’d like to just quickly note that, for the purposes of my next two posts, the type of blogging that I’m going to be talking about is personal, hobbyist blogging: i.e. blogging with little or no intention to monetize or market a business.

1. Choosing topics

If you have a blog about something in particular, topics can be quite easy. If you want to have a blog about video games, for example, you can probably generate at least a few post topics per week, because you can write about gaming news stories, gaming culture or about games that you’ve been playing recently. For me, writing a personal blog that is just about me and my life, without a real topical focus, is a little challenging.

Part of this problem is that I have lots of options for topics, but they’re not always things that I’m ready or willing to discuss publicly. I want to choose topics that are of interest to me, but that also might be of interest to the audience I’m communicating with, even if I’m not wholly certain of who that audience might be. The public at large doesn’t need to know that my mother and I had an argument on Tuesday or that I had a crappy week at work. Finding topics that allow me to express my thoughts and feelings without being too personal can be a bit tricky at times, especially since I’m currently trying to write two essay length posts per week.

2. Listicles

Did you notice the clever title of this blog? Does it sound like anything you’ve read before? I’m sure it does. The listicle has permeated our culture and online vernacular: it is ubiquitous. We are all guilty of reading them and now I am finally guilty of writing one. I can understand why they’re so popular from the perspective of both readers and writers: they’re easy. It requires very little effort or skill to write 1 or 2 sentences about pretty well anything and even less effort or skill to read and analyze 10 bullet points.

I read just as many listicles as anyone reading this (probably more) and, for me, they make personal, essay-style blogging a bit difficult for a few reasons:

  • They are so easy to write that I actively have to discourage myself from writing them (I’m trying to challenge myself to be at least a bit succinct in a formal, paragraphed style).
  • They’ve had a hand in lowering the internet’s attention span, thus making it more challenging to get eyes on long form, paragraphed content.
  • Most blogging prompt resources have nothing but listicle prompts because they are geared toward monetized, professional blogs, where listicles belong.

3. Narcissism, or the appearance of narcissism

Obviously, I believe that personal blogging is valuable and I enjoy doing it, but sometimes you just get sick of yourself and you worry about your readers getting sick of you as well.

4. Privacy concerns

I’ve been blogging for roughly 20 years. I’ve been thinking about writing, and may still write, about my relationship with blogging and how it has changed over the course of my adult life. The internet has changed so much during that time and the blog I started with was nothing like the blog I have today. I built a website using Netscape Composer and would post essays that I had written, some for fun and some for my high school newspaper. Since those humble beginnings, I have had at least 5 other blogs.

I’ve never shared any of those blogs with people in my offline life. My blogs have always been a part of my online life, which, for the past 20 years I have generally kept separate from my life offline. For the most part, this allowed me to remain anonymous, which provided me with a great deal of freedom. I could write about whatever I wanted, complain about whatever I wanted, contemplate out loud whatever I wanted, without worrying about hurting any feelings or offending my family or offline friends.

These days, things aren’t that simple. The emergence of social media has meant that my online and offline lives have been blurred together in ways that have often made me uncomfortable. I’ve grown accustomed to hiding significant aspects of myself from the two disparate halves of my life over the years and now that I am actually sharing my personal writing on Facebook, the stakes have become even higher. I don’t feel like I need to censor myself too much, but I do feel the need to be more careful about my writing than I have in the past.

Personal blogging certainly does have its challenges and I’m sure that I will run into further frustrations down the road, but as I mentioned above, I do enjoy it. On Tuesday I will be exploring some of the reasons why I keep a personal blog and why I have loved doing it for so many years. Please look forward to it!

Me and Prufrock’s Love Song

I love T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It’s been one of my favourite works of literature since I first heard it read on my first day of university in the fall of 1999. My English 101: Introduction to Poetry professor (whose name I don’t remember anymore) played us a recording of T. S. Eliot reading the poem himself. His accent was odd and his reading plodding, but I fell in love with it and I’ve been in love with it ever since.

I’m not really a nostalgic person. I don’t watch movies or read books from my childhood or even think about them particularly often. I know that many point to the books they read as a child and speak about how important they were in the formation of their adult selves, but that has never clicked with me. I look back at those books and movies and TV shows with some fondness, but I have little interest in revisiting them. I don’t really consider them to be particularly important in my development as a person, even though I did enjoy them heartily at the time. I would say that this is partly because I believe I have changed significantly over the course of my life and also because I like to move on to new things: keep learning, keep evolving, keep sucking up new knowledge.

But I have lugged Prufrock around with me for nearly 20 years now. It’s really almost humorous, because for many years I spent very little time thinking about what the poem might actually mean. I liked letting the words be what they were. I became remarkably skilled at reading Prufrock aloud (mostly to impress men I was interested in), but didn’t really understand what I was saying. I’m not sure we can ever know what any poem truly means unless we ask the poets themselves and they deign to tell us. We can interpret and guess, but I always believed inferring authorial intent to be a little dangerous. These days I do have my opinions about what T. S. Eliot might be getting at, or at least what the words suggest to me.

Prufrock is a rambling and contemplative journey where a person is exposing and then accepting various truths about themselves. I did some reading online a few weeks ago and it seems that the central debate about Prufrock revolves around the “overwhelming question”:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

Whenever Eliot mentions this overwhelming question, it always seems to be something that the narrator is working up to, something that the story is moving toward. Personally, I’m inclined to think that the overwhelming question is a marriage proposal or confession of love. It seems simple, but it makes sense to me based on how the the concept appears throughout the poem.

Regardless of what the overwhelming question might be, the poem has many powerful moments that I think can speak to any of us, no matter where we might be in our lives. My personal favourite excerpt, which has been a great companion over the years and which has taken on a great deal of new meaning recently is:

“But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.”
While I have spent a good amount of time in my life being a self-important asshole, this stanza has always reminded me that, while my life may be of great importance to me and those who love me, my existence, in the grand scheme of things, is not particularly important. This is not to say that I am powerless and that individuals can’t accomplish things on their own, because I wholeheartedly believe that that is not the case. But it is a reminder of the importance of humility and that, even when you experience great hardship, the world will continue to turn without you: I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter.
Do you have a favourite poem? Is there a fictional work that is a constant companion for you? I’d love to hear all about it! Post a comment below or let me know on Facebook or Twitter!

Me and Self Improvement

Over the past several years, I have been developing an interest in self improvement.  I’ve always been an introspective person and I’ve always been committed to lifelong learning, but recently I have been trying to take a more purposeful approach to achieving my goals and living a happy and full life.  I will own that the results of all this have been mixed.  Some years I do a great job with following through on my goals and other years, life throws a few too many curve balls and I get distracted.  Due to my illness, however, this year I want to make sure that I am doing everything I can to stay grounded, live in the moment, and manage my time well.  I have things that I want to accomplish, and I have a great opportunity to get started on them.

I haven’t always lived my life with this much intention.  In fact, for the first 30 or so years of my life, I mostly played things by ear.  In university, I chose my major solely based on the courses that interested me the most, rather than based on what could assist me in developing a successful career.  I applied for a Masters program in Archival Studies mostly on a lark.  There aren’t words to express the relief that I felt when I fell in love with it.  After finishing graduate school, I continued to learn new things and to challenge myself intellectually; however, I never made an actual plan and I never had a clue as to where I wanted my life to go.

Throughout the years when I was trying to cultivate my career as an archivist, I lacked self awareness and personal insight; as such, I completely destroyed my chances of being successful in that endeavor.  The fumbling ridiculousness of my adult career development is an essay for another day, but it was the difficulties that I encountered in my career that served as the genesis for my self improvement journey.

During a long and depressing stint of unemployment, I began to realize that I was basing all of my self worth and happiness on obtaining a highly specific job in a field that was shrinking.  With the job, I would be happy and fulfilled and without the job I would be miserable.  This attitude destroyed my self confidence (which has never been particularly great) and made me even less attractive to potential employers — I couldn’t hide my desperation.  After a great deal of soul searching, I decided that I was going to have to change my attitude, or I was going to be stuck in this negative feedback loop for a very long time.

And so I started to seek out mentors.  I tried to think of people in my life who might not be 100% satisfied with their jobs, but were constantly striving and working toward happiness in their lives.  I evaluated what those people were doing that I was not doing and eventually the tremendous error I had been making became clear: I was relying on something external to make me happy.

In order to be truly happy, I would need to work to be the source of my own happiness.  From there, I started making a lot of positive life changes.  I started setting goals, even if I wasn’t always great about following through with every intention I set for the year.  I made more conscious plans for ongoing learning and began focusing on skills that I felt would be both fun and useful, such as cooking, baking and knitting.  I sought out tools and mechanisms that I could use to accurately and honestly evaluate my life and my progress.

I won’t lie and say that all this suddenly turned my life around and instantly made everything better.  I still struggle most of the time with depression that can make it difficult for me to take aggressive action on aspects of my life that need improvement.  I am still working through the heavy slog of trying to figure out which path I’d like to start meandering toward career change and growth.  I am still completely selfish and judge others too harshly.  I am a work in progress.

Despite the fact that I’m still not exactly where I would like to be, I feel I do need to give myself credit for making some great changes.  I have indeed come a long way.  I am far more comfortable in my own skin these days and I have let go of at least part of the enormous chip on my shoulder.  I’m more understanding and vulnerable; I’m a better romantic partner.  I’ve always been introspective, but I am now much better at accurately assessing myself without being either way too harsh or way too lenient.  I am more honest and better at taking responsibility for my actions.

Because I have learned so much from my self improvement journey over the past few years, I will be writing from time to time about tools and techniques that I have used to facilitate all of these changes.  I hope that some of you find them useful or, at least, interesting to read about!  Have a great weekend, everyone!