Monthly Archives: April 2015

London calling?

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. Back in late February, in a fit of “something’s gotta give”, I applied for a job in London. A few days ago, I was told I got it. I’m happy, but it turns out that there are quite a few things about the position that aren’t what I thought, so I’m on the fence about taking it.

The idea of living London is thrilling, and it’s still true that something has got to give, but I find myself wondering if it’s really worth it to turn my life upside down for this job that I can’t see myself staying in for more than a year or two, if that. There are so many pros and cons that my head is spinning, and if I hear one more person say, “well, it’s your decision”, I might scream.

On one hand, the move in itself isn’t going to make me happy. If it’s just the same old life in a different city, I’m better off staying here, to be honest. But on the other hand, it could be a great first step towards breaking the destructive patterns I seem to be stuck in.

At the very least I think it would be good for my writing. I would have regular working hours; fifteen hour days would be a thing of the past. I would have weekends again, vacations, and free time every evening with no chance of it being interrupted by an assignment that needs immediate attention. Just the thought of that makes me a little giddy. It’s been so long since I’ve had time that was truly my own. There’s always that nagging thought in the back of my mind that tells me I might get work any second. In fact, as I’m writing this, it’s ten o’clock at night, and my phone just trilled at me.

(I’ve developed a twitch in response to the email noise on my phone. You think I’m kidding? I’m not kidding!)

When I applied, I had some conditions in mind for what I needed in order to say yes to the job. I was prepared to negotiate on some, but now it’s become clear that very few things about the position actually meet those conditions. Perhaps I should have said no right away, because I really feel that I’m worth more than they’re offering. But here I am, thinking about throwing all those real, legitimate concerns out the window and just go for it, consequences be damned. After all, I’ve been talking a lot about how necessary it is for me to make changes, and sometimes you just got to take a chance. But maybe not this one?


What if?

Many years ago, a friend of me called me, quite fittingly, a “what-iffer”. I laughed at the time, but it really is a great description of me. Perhaps it’s a sign of an imagination that is a smidge on the dark side, but I have never had a problem seeing the worst case scenario, however improbable. Sometimes this quality protects me from making foolish choices, and I suppose that’s good, but often, it also keeps me from taking chances. If there’s something I’m supposed to do or want to do, I tend to take this thing and build it up in my head until it’s become an invincible beast I can’t slay. Then, because I feel there’s no way I can overcome the obstacles that are “sure” to come in my way, I put it off. And put it off some more. And some more, for good measure. I put it off until the opportunity has passed, or I’m forced by some external force to tackle it.

When I am forced to deal with things, I usually find that reality is far from as terrifying as it had become in my mind. Even if it is bad, after it’s happened, I will always find a way to be okay with how it turned out. I have to, because the only thing you can change about the past is your perspective of it. The rest is, as we say, history, and therefore not worth agonizing over. And yet, even knowing this, I find it extremely difficult to break the habit of sticking my head in the sand.

In many ways, we take a chance when we start a new project. We’re taking a chance that we actually have something to say that people will find worth listening to. We’re taking a chance that we have sufficient skill to say it in a way that does our message justice. We’re taking a chance on baring the inner workings of our minds to a world that has the potential to be both beautiful and harsh. Once our thoughts exist as words on a page out there, they no longer belong to us alone. Those who read them will do with them as they please. If it pleases them to stomp and spit on them, they can and will, often with ferocious glee. It won’t be any skin off their noses.

My nose, however, might be rubbed raw, and I guess I assume that it will be eventually. The what-iffer in me can’t imagine anything but failure, but of course, my hypothetical failure is like a hundred other things I’ve built up in my head before. It’s not as terrifying as I think it will be; there’s always life after failure, and where there’s life, there’s another chance to slay the beast you thought invincible.

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About a month ago, in an effort to introduce a little bit of structure into my writing time and ensure that I would actually get a little bit of writing done, I went into Google calendar and set up some alarms to remind me it was time to get down to business. Since I’m so rusty, I wanted to take it slow: only five minutes per day, then five minutes more the next week, five minutes more the week after that, and so on. If I wanted to keep going, I could obviously continue, but I didn’t want to spend half an hour staring at the screen if I just wasn’t feeling it.

The results… well, they were wildly inconsistent.

A lot of the time, I just plain ignored the alarm. Often I had good reasons to do so. In hindsight, I probably picked a bad time for the alarms to go off, though I’m not sure that a different time would have worked better. Life as a freelancer can be very loosy-goosy, and it’s been a long time since I’ve adhered to a strict schedule for anything. I’m just not used to that way of thinking anymore, and it’s hard to adjust.

I really wanted to stick to the plan, but I found that it was very difficult to actually do so. Sometimes I was still working when the alarm went off at five thirty. Other times I had just finished working and was halfway into cooking dinner when my phone informed me it was time to write. Or I had just left the house to go for a much needed walk to clear my head. Or I suddenly felt like I had a head full of fuzz. Or, or, or, a hundred different ors. Don’t get me wrong, I did write quite a bit during the past month; I’m just not so sure that the reminders had anything to do with it. Like I said, I often ignored the alarms, and if I did write, it was later in the evening.

Perhaps that means I should try again, but set up the reminders later in the day. I do thrive on structure, but I also get so terribly frustrated when I have to go off schedule, which is bound to happen when work gets busy. I know I shouldn’t count on failure before I’ve even gotten started, but I feel that if I have a set plan, I will eventually give up. Maybe I just have to accept that my life isn’t compatible with a strict schedule, even if I like the idea of just sitting down at a specific time, without having to actively make the decision every day; it would just be my routine.

The real crux of the problem, I suppose, is that I can’t predict what tomorrow is going to look like, let alone next week. I get assignments when I get them, and there’s no such thing as a heads up before a particularly slow or particularly busy period. I just have to take whatever comes my way. I suppose I’m fortunate to have more busy periods with work than I do slow periods, but that also means that when I have a little breather, I feel like I should take advantage of the opportunity to relax. I rarely get more than a few hours of reprieve before the next work email ticks in, and my to-do list is hardly ever empty. But if I always allow myself to relax, however well-deserved the break may be, I will never write another word again. That’s how I ended up going four years without writing much of anything, after all.

I’m always interested to hear what other people do. Do you schedule your writing time, or do you just write as and when the mood strikes you? Do you make a point to write every day, even on busy days, or do you think it’s best to ease up when there’s just to much going on?

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Another “fuck you” to Clean Reader

I had planned on posting this last week, but when I realized last Wednesday was April 1st, I decided to push the post back a week in favor of a post about the ten year anniversary of my grandmother’s death. Then I ended up working 12 hours yesterday, and didn’t much feel like spending more time in front of the computer screen after that. But even if I’m a bit late to the party, I wanted to share my thoughts on the Clean Reader kerfuffle.

A few years ago, my mother scolded my brother for swearing at the dinner table. She rarely does that anymore, seeing as my thirty-plus-year-old brother is probably a lost cause, but for whatever reason, she scolded him that day and she trotted out the old adage about swearing being a sign of poor vocabulary. I vehemently disagree with that statement, so I informed her that I sometimes swear as well. Did she think that I have a poor vocabulary? After all I’ve made my living as a freelance translator for several years, and I’ve never met a language teacher who didn’t love me. She looked at me like I had grown a second and a third head.

It’s safe to say that a lot of what I write would be unaffected by Clean Reader. But sometimes I do include some choice language. When I do, I would very much like that choice to be respected. I understand that some people object to swearing and that’s their right. If I am speaking to someone whom I know does not approve of swearing, I will be considerate of that and not swear in front of them. However, despite not letting f-bombs fly at every moment, I am not against swearing, and I feel that is my right.

Some say that readers should be allowed to consume the books they have purchased any way they please. Clean Reader is simply an advanced way of going through a book and sharpie-ing out the bad words. They say this as if they are assuming that I’m okay with a person doing that. I’m not. Not really, though I recognize that it’s perfectly legal, not to mention that it’s utterly futile to try and stop it. Still, I aim to say something with the stories I tell, and if my words are changed and watered down to support the moral agenda of someone else, it’s no longer my story. Maybe my themes get muddled. Maybe my characterization suffers. Maybe it completely destroys my message. Whatever changes are made, there’s a good chance they interfere with my original intent. That’s true whether you do it with a sharpie or with Clean Reader, but at least the sharpie method is cumbersome and impossible to utilize on a large scale. Clean Reader, on the other hand, provides censorship at the click of a button.

Many balk at that big word, censorship. Surely editing out a few cuss words isn’t censorship? They bleep out words on TV all the time*. What’s the big deal? In my mind, censorship is exactly what it is though. I chose my words carefully,  then someone else came along and changed them to suit them and their beliefs. What is that, if not censorship? How can it be anything but censorship? Am I not allowed to choose words that suit me and my beliefs? I hardly think that Clean Reader is the top of a slippery slope that ends in book burning and the demise of civilization, but it’s bad enough in itself.

The file isn’t being edited, the creators of Clean Reader say. The original file is still there, in all its uncouth glory. Semantics, I say. Clean Reader may technically be legal, but there are a lot of things that are technically legal that I don’t agree with. It’s a loophole. Actually editing the file is illegal. Making it appear edited is not. But the end result of editing and making the text appear edited is much the same. The bottom line remains that Clean Reader takes a person’s words and allows a reader to make them more palatable, regardless of the author’s intent. I’m certainly not saying that every writer weighs their every ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ carefully; sometimes swearing is just swearing. But the writer has a right to use those words, and nobody should get to put other words in his or her mouth. You don’t like it, nobody is forcing you to keep on reading, and nobody is stopping you from never again picking up a book by the same author.

But people who dislike swearing want great books too! Why should they miss out on all those great books, just because there’s language they don’t agree with? To that I ask, why shouldn’t they? If they make the choice to avoid swearing, good for them, but that choice comes with a sacrifice. Most choices do. Not everyone has to accommodate them. There are plenty of books out there that have little to no swearing. They’re not missing out on all great books, just the ones that don’t conform to their idea of morality. If authors could opt in, then sure. I’m not against so-called “clean” books, and I have nothing against people who do not want to be exposed to swearing. I just don’t want my beliefs to come second to theirs.

Let’s not forget that there would likely be quite a lot of noise made if the tables were turned and someone created a similar app to turn “clean” books into dirtier versions, or to replace all mentions of God with Allah. If one author doesn’t want his or her “fricks” and “shoots” to be turned into “fucks” and “shits”, is it so hard to understand that another author might not want their “fucks” and “shits” turned into “fricks” and “shoots”?

Let’s also discuss some of the choices the creators of Clean Reader made when creating their filters. Is vagina considered profanity? Do women only have “bottoms” below the belt? Is breast a dirty word? I for one struggle to think of a less profane word for female genitalia than vagina, and “breast” is about as innocent as you get as well. In fact, I cannot for the life of me understand how “chest” is less profane than “breast”. I can see why you would blank out many words referring to the human anatomy (even though I obviously disagree with blanking out any words at all), but those? It makes it abundantly clear that the creators consider the human body to be profane in general, and I have absolutely no wish to further that belief in any way. Clean Reader would have forced me to do just that, and the creators of the app would have made money from it to boot.

The fact of the matter is that the words Clean Reader blanks out are heavily biased towards a specific belief system, which I happen to not share. I’m aware that Clean Reader can’t reach into my mind and stop me from writing anything profane. I can still use the words I feel are appropriate for the occasion, and those words will still be there underneath the filter. But if the reader can choose to brush aside my views, my choices, my beliefs with the click of a button, what does that matter?

*I don’t, in fact, agree with bleeping out words on TV either.

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The words we leave behind

My beloved grandmother has been gone exactly ten years today. Her death remains the single most painful experience of my life. I miss her more than I ever imagined missing anyone, and that longing has not been diminished by the time that has passed. A decade later, I would still give almost anything to see her again.

When my family was deciding what to do with her things, her death was still too raw for me to contemplate living without her. I didn’t want her things; I wanted her. As I sat there, silent and distraught over being in her house without her, my father slid her wedding band over to me. It’s become one of my most precious belongings. Even though some have told me I shouldn’t, I’ve worn that ring nearly every day since I got it. I don’t care what other people say; I want to look down at my hand and be reminded that even though she’s gone now, she was here once.

Of course, I have other things that came from her. Presents she gave me, cards she wrote. And I was adamant that the red leather photo album she kept under her living room table be brought to our house. It mostly has pictures of my father and uncles as small children, but there are others too: My grandmother as a four-year-old. My grandmother when she was my age, wearing a pretty coat and clutching her handbag. A young version of my grandfather lying in the grass on a hillside, wearing a stylish fedora. Another one of my grandfather with his arm around another woman with the playful caption “boo!” I love looking at the familiar faces in these pictures, but they can only give me small glimpses into that long-ago time.

Her journals provide a somewhat better view. Unfortunately it turns out that my face and laugh aren’t the only things I inherited from my grandmother: her journal entries were every bit as sporadic as mine are. Two small notebooks spanning all the way from 1989 to 1996 are all I have. There may have been others, but if so, my grandmother either threw them away or they just got lost at some point. I wish there were more.

I’d missed her terribly while I was an exchange student in America, so before she died, I had made vague plans to spend more time with her before going off to university. I wanted to get to know her as a person rather than just as my grandmother. And then she was just gone. Now, there are so many questions I never got to ask, and they no longer have answers. Instead I have her words. They are not enough, not by far. But she can still speak to me through them. As I was reading one of the journals today, a particular passage, written in May of 1991, struck right home:

“Maybe it’s because we think that our lives are about to run out and we haven’t achieved what we were hoping for.”

It pains me to think that my grandmother had dreams that went unfulfilled. She probably did; no one ever has all their wishes come true. Some things are outside our control, and there’s no amount of hard work that can change that. I hope she knew that her life was worthwhile, despite the things she didn’t achieve. My life was made infinitely less when she was no longer in it. But even if she did know that, would she have chased a different life if she was given the chance? What would she say to me if she were here now and knew that I’m fighting my own dreams every step of the way, because I’m scared it might not work out? I doubt she’d want me to spend the remaining years of my life as I have spent the past ten. She loved me as much as I loved her. She would want the same for me that I wanted for her: Every dream fulfilled.