Well the National Book Festival was everything I had hoped for and more. I had SUCH A GOOD TIME.
I've always liked hearing authors talk. I like to hear about their process and what events or questions inspired their books. I just love getting a peak into that world. As an adult, I've been lucky enough to hear Tony Morrison and Salman Rushdie. And when I was a kid, Mary Downing Hahn (Wait Till Helen Comes) and Priscilla Cummings (Chadwick the Crab) visited my school, which had a profound effect on me (You mean real people write these books? And they live in my state?). Reading can sometimes feel lonely, so bringing readers and authors together helps me feel part of a shared experience.
And that's exactly how I felt yesterday at the National Book Festival in D.C. I can't even tell you how much fun it was. Let me give you a quick run down of the people I heard:
David McCullough: What a storyteller! I left this talk wanting to read everything he has written. I loved his book John Adams, and now I really want to read his one about the Wright brothers. He did an especially great job of talking about all the women that are a part of these histories and don't get the credit for the roles they played. And on that same theme, he also credited his wife extensively for helping him during his revision process. I really liked that. McCullough still writes on a manual typewriter, which is adorable, AND he talked about how important it is to read your work aloud as you're writing and editing. I must have looked like a bobblehead in the stands, I was nodding so hard in agreement with that. I caught the tail-end of Alice McDermott's talk too, and she said the exact same thing. You've got to hear the sound of the words to get them right, they're not just marks on the page. Anyway, no one writes about American history better than McCullough and I feel really lucky that I got to hear him speak.
Diana Gabaldon: So full disclosure, I've read about half of Outlander, and while it's pretty good, it just isn't my cup of tea. Despite that, I was still so excited to hear her talk and she did not disappoint. I have a lot of respect for her genre-blending. I mean, who would have thought historical fiction could be crossed with romance and science fiction! I'm sure publishers wouldn't naturally bet on that horse, so the fact that Gabaldon has been so successful at making it work is incredibly impressive to me (she's sold a massive 28 million copies of her books, on which a hit TV show has also been based), She was funny, a little naughty, and incredibly inspiring. After hearing her talk, I almost wanted to leave the festival so I could get writing. The fact that she transitioned her original career as a biology professor in academia to becoming a novelist is another thing about her story that I really admire. I mean, if she can do it, maybe I can too! Gave me hope.
Colm Toibin: Of all the talks I saw, this one was definitely the most literary. I really, really loved his novel, Brooklyn, and it was just fascinating to hear how the tiny, quiet details of his childhood in Ireland informs his work. He made a great case for making stories out of almost nothing, just the mundane, but incredibly human details of our lives. Kind of a great reminder to wake up, listen, and observe all the stories that are already taking place in your life. The hard work of putting them down on paper still remains, but they're there if you bother to notice.
Thomas Friedman: So Friedman may have been the biggest crowd-draw, but I'm actually not very familiar with his work. He's a columnist for the New York Times, and as he stated up front, he considers his job to illuminate ideas that provoke an emotional response (which sounds like high-level click bait to me, but what do I know). He gave a great, incredibly well-rehearsed presentation that was much more like a TED talk than any other speaker's (who were typically more conversational). I don't know. Friedman was kind of impressive, but it felt like he was exaggerating a lot of ideas. I didn't walk away from that talk feeling like I had learned much other than Thomas Friedman likes to make connections about globalization, climate change, Moore's law, human adaptability, and that those connections may or may not be real. He was promoting his book Thank You For Being Late, and it sounded pretty good, but also kind of suspect. I don't know, wasn't my favorite talk. Just a little too slick. Big ideas are complex and I feel like he way over-simplified everything so they would fit into his convenient unified theory.
Michael Lewis: Lewis hardly needs an introduction. If you've read or seen The Big Short, Moneyball (movie), or Liar's Poker, then you know his work. But until I saw his talk, which was actually more of an awesome conversation between him and Joel Achenbach (whom I've been reading in the Washington Post for years, so it was really cool to finally see him in the flesh), I hadn't made the connection that he had written ALL those books. Of all the talks I saw, Lewis's may have been the most downright entertaining. He made everything he said sound like the most interesting thing you've ever heard. Of all the authors yesterday, for me he was the most like David McCullough - incredibly curious people, asking all the right questions and digging to find the answers. Lewis's talk may have been my favorite of the whole day. Like McCullough's, I left wanting to read everything he had ever written.
Condoleezza Rice: I mean, CONDOLEEZZA FREAKING RICE! Look, I was never a fan of the Bush administration, but I always admired Rice, and the more I've learned about her over the years, the more impressed I get. She grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, smack in the middle of segregation and the Civil Rights movement (she knew some of the little girls who were killed in the Birmingham church bombing). And yet, she grew up empowered by her parents and herself to become a world-expert in Soviet and Eastern European foreign policy (she has a Ph.D. and was a professor at Stanford University). She speaks Russian, was part of both the George H. W. and W. Bush administrations as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State (America's top diplomat), and, if that wasn't enough, she's also an incredibly talented classical pianist. Her talk was about her new book, Democracy - basically what institutions are needed to make a successful system (independent courts, free press, etc.) and why it's thrived in some parts of the world and not in others. The moderator had her talk about the state of democracy (or lack thereof) in different countries and geopolitical situations, and holy shit, does the lady know her stuff. She's back teaching at Stanford, and if I could, I would definitely take her class. The only "bad" part about Rice's talk was that it was scheduled at almost the same time as Roxane Gay's, whose new book, Hunger, I really want to read. Hopefully I'll get to see her another time.
Ann Telnaes, Mike Lester, and Roz Chast: Finally, I closed out the fairly long day (I got there at 10 am and didn't leave until 7 pm) with the cartoonists panel. I'm a massive cartoon fan, in all forms of the medium, so this was a real treat for me. Ann Telnaes (of the Washington Post) and Mike Lester are editorial cartoonists on opposite sides of the political spectrum. I'm sure you would recognize Telnaes's work. I really enjoyed hearing her talk. She was such a strong, intelligent voice against Trump and his attempts to bully the free press (in ways that aren't unlike some of the warning signs Rice was discussing in her own talk). I just love her cartooning style, and had no idea that all these years I've been reading her work that it was a woman behind it. There aren't many female political cartoonists and she takes a lot of heat on the internet for it. Because how dare a woman speak up! I didn't love Mike Lester. Our politics don't agree, which isn't the end of the world, but beyond that, he just wasn't very coherent or nearly as interesting as Telnaes. I also hate his comic strip, Mike du Jour, but it was interesting to at least put a face to the name. The last talk I heard was with Roz Chast, whom I'm a big fan of (you can read my review of her graphic novel Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? here). For years, I didn't really appreciate her work, and then one day it just hit me how amazing it is. She's by far my favorite New Yorker cartoonist.
The only slightly annoying part was her talk was a little ruined for me by a group of incredibly impolite teenage boys I happened to be sitting next to. The room was so packed, I couldn't change seats, and for the life of me, I don't know why they even bothered to be there. They kept getting up and down from their seats, spent 99% of the talk playing games on their cell phones (while one "helpfully" described the cartoons and jokes being projected on the screens to his companions, so I could hardly hear Chast talk). And then when someone tried to sit down in a seat in the middle of the row, and politely asked the boys if he could get past them, the kid looked up from his phone and sneered, "Can you get in on the other side?" (meaning the other side of the aisle, so he wouldn't have to be bothered to scoot his knees out of the way for the all of 2 seconds it would take for the older man to get a seat). Makes you wonder what the world is coming to. I wanted to tell that kid off, but it would only have made a bigger disruption than it already was.
Anyway, despite that last bit, the National Book Festival was amazing and I can't wait until next year. I mean, in one day I heard more authors speak than I have in my entire life up to that point. If you're a word nerd like me, the Library of Congress's National Book Festival is well worth it. If I weren't local, I would definitely plan a long weekend in D.C. around it. There's plenty to do in the city and free events like this one make it even better.
Have you ever been? If so, tell me about it in the comments! Would love to hear your experiences.
Time for some quick-fire book reviews. If you want to see what I'm reading these days, check out the Books tab and scroll down to the bottom for my 2017 reading list.
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus (read for book club): To say this is an experimental novel is an understatement. Ostensibly, it's about a woman who becomes obsessed with a man (an English literary/culture critic posing as some kind of cowboy artist), but that's really not what the book is about. I found it easier to like this work by thinking of it as a piece of performance art concerning feminism, art criticism, and most of all, who gets to speak. I Love Dick is Kraus's living answer to that question. I'm not sure how they managed to convince Amazon to make a TV show based on this book, but I can't comment on that having not seen it. If you do decide to take the plunge with I Love Dick, I would recommend skimming the section about the paintings. As far as I can tell, a lot of this book wasn't intended for the every-day reader, being more specifically geared to Kraus's peers (art and literary critics in the most academic sense of the word). It's a hard book to finish, but you should because the ending is fabulous and there is a lot great insight sprinkled throughout.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (read for an upcoming Adichie talk): I'll be honest, this book was a bit of a struggle for me until the latter half. It's about a Nigerian family, well-off and highly respected because of the father's business success, his support of the free press in an oppressive and dangerous political landscape, as well as his generosity and extreme catholic piety. To outside observers, he is the perfect figure-head to the perfect family. But what no one else knows is that he regularly beats and terrorizes his wife and two children, usually for some kind of perceived sin, however inconsequential (or non-existent) it might be. The father is a fairly interesting character because you can only wonder how he became this way and why he hurts his family even as he so clearly loves them. I suppose it's because he's been taught to believe by missionaries that he will lose them if they aren't able to uphold every rigid, arbitrary rule of Catholicism, much in the way he's "lost" his father who simply refuses to convert. Anyway, you can already tell from this review whom I'm more fascinated by in this book, even though it's told from the perspective of his daughter. And I feel a little bad about that, because it's clearly not her fault that she's so passive and weak - she's been terrorized into silence by her father. So her passivity is understandable, but also very frustrating to read. Most other characters outside of her family also get annoyed by her for these same reasons, so I suppose my reaction isn't entirely out of place, but we at least know why she's so weak, and so we know how unfair it is to judge her for it. Once the daughter is more or less removed from her home by her aunt, she begins to improve, but it was a slog to get there. I just got very tired of reading the lines "I wanted to say..." over and over. But again, I understood why she couldn't say it either. It definitely made you feel complicit in the plot, like you were just another character passing judgement on the poor girl, making her life extra miserable. So her passivity made it hard to push through Purple Hibiscus, but I'm glad I did. Can't wait to hear Adichie's thoughts about it and what I may have missed.
Would definitely recommend you try both of these novels. Like I said, they're kind of difficult books in different ways. Purple Hibiscus is certainly the more readable of the two, but the narrator was less compelling compared to I Love Dick's (who most of my book club hated, so this may be a taste thing). Anyway, check them out if you're in the mood for some heavier reading. I probably wouldn't have finished either if I hadn't been reading them for very specific reasons, but I'm glad I did. Definitely enjoying the accountability of my book club for that reason.
So for all my writing and reading friends out there, I wanted to give you a quick heads up about some exciting literary events that are coming to the D.C. area, in case you happen to live around here or will be passing through.
First of all, the National Book Festival is coming up on September 2! This FREE event is sponsored by the Library of Congress and brings together some really exciting authors for the public to listen to and engage with. Speakers include Roz Chast (of New Yorker cartoon fame, whose book I wrote a review about here), Diana Gabaldon, Roxane Gay, Ha Jin, Condoleezza Rice, Cokie Roberts, David McCullough, Colm Toibin, and so many more. You can find the full list here. For a one day event, I think it's going to be really hard to see everyone I'd like to! The National Book Festival takes place at the Walter E. Washington convention center with doors opening at 8:30 am. I've wanted to go to this festival for YEARS, but have never gone for one reason or another. Can't wait to finally experience it and nerd out with other book lovers.
The other big literary news is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is coming to Maryland! She's giving several talks at different locations from September 24-26, including at the Baltimore Book Festival, about her novel Purple Hibiscus, which Maryland Humanities is sponsoring as a kind of state wide book club. I'm about half-way through the book, and it's very well written, though I admit I'm having some issues with the main character's passivity - but it does make perfect sense since this is a story about family abuse. Looking forward to finishing it and seeing how it turns out.
It was actually my best friend who alerted me to these upcoming talks, and even though she lives all the way in Dallas, she's flying home for the long weekend so we can see Adichie together. My friend is a huge fan of her writing, but also of her TED talks, including the one I've linked above, "We Should All Be Feminists." Check it out! I admit, I have not read enough of Adichie's work (Americana is perpetually on my "to read" list), but this has been a great excuse to dig into her catalogue in preparation to hear her talk.
And if you're in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area this September, I hope you'll be able to make it to these events. I know I'm super excited :)
Last week I spoke about starting Lexapro, so I wanted to give you a little update about how I'm feeling.
Actually, not bad. Pretty good even. My problems aren't solved by any means, but they certainly feel less impossible. I don't really know how to describe it. It's not that I necessarily feel happier, but I am having an easier time seeing how my goals and issues can be broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces. I certainly don't feel like a different person, but I do feel less "wound up," if you know what I mean.
For instance, I've been struggling to finish a short novella for the last few months. It could not be a simpler story (purely commercially driven for publication on Amazon's KDP) that I'd already completely plotted out, and yet I have not been able to just sit down and finish the damn thing so I could move on to better projects.
Yesterday I finished it. After literal months of being about 2000 words from the ending, I was finally able to sit my butt down and get it done.
Is it the medicine? A placebo effect? A combination of all the other things I'm doing? Not sure. But I'll take it.
The only other thing I've been doing differently is making more of a concerted effort to apply some cognitive behavioral therapy exercises, particularly the one related to procrastination/perfectionism. It works like this: you make three columns on a piece of paper and label them Task, Perception, and Reality. You write out your tasks and then on a scale of 0-100, rate how difficult you perceive they will be. Then after you complete the task, you rate how difficult you actually felt it was in the Reality column. Those of us that struggle with anxiety generally perceive things to be more difficult or awful than they really are, which contributes to our procrastination. I've been struggling with that issue lately, so I've been using this exercise and finding it really helpful, because it provides tangible evidence that the activities I need to do aren't nearly as hard as I expect them to be and it creates a kind of positive snowball effect for future tasks.
Anyway, just wanted to report that I'm definitely feeling a little better and having an easier time with things. The mild Lexapro side-effects have worn off and I'm feeling like it's really helping, especially in combination with the cognitive behavioral therapy I've been working on. That makes sense since the combination of medication plus therapy is supposed to be more effective than either one alone. I don't know why but I find that pretty cool to see in action. It gives me a lot of respect for psychiatry.
Sorry I've been awol these last two weeks. Been busy with a lot of stuff, not least of which is both my therapist and doctor diagnosed me with moderate depression/anxiety (no doubt triggered by how my life has changed post-separation/divorce).
For whatever reason, I found this diagnosis pretty surprising, even though the writing has been on the wall for a few months now. Beyond a brief period in the 7th grade when I was very socially isolated after my best friend went to a different school and all my other friends were in different classes, I've never really felt very down or low for more than a day at a time. But something has definitely been off for the last few months, something that goes beyond just the standard breakup grief.
I guess I didn't realize what was going on because I didn't expect depression to feel this way. At least for me, I can only describe it as this sense of hopelessness and feeling trapped. My brain gets stuck in these perpetual worry loops where I can see no way to solve my problems or change my current situation. I'm still able to get up and do the things I need to do, but mostly just the essentials, because everything feels so much more difficult and overwhelming than normal. And frankly, nothing has felt very fun. I've also been feeling generally nervous all the time, even when there's no reason to be, which I suppose is the anxiety - something that definitely runs in my family.
So on my doctor's advice, I've started taking Lexapro, which seems to be one of the more commonly prescribed SSRIs. I've only been on it for a few days now, and thankfully the side-effects already seem to be wearing off, though they were never that bad to begin with (just feeling a little "off," sleepiness, some mild GI issues, etc.). I know it's too early to tell, but I swear I already feel very slightly better (tbh, it's probably a placebo effect). For instance, today I noticed that butterfly feeling in my stomach had kind of gone away. I'm not exaggerating when I say I've been feeling that fluttery, nervous sensation on and off all day for weeks now. So it's been kind of nice to get a reprieve from that.
Sometimes I don't really know what to do with this blog. Do I narrow its focus onto reading and writing? Or do I open up and tell you guys a little bit about my life as well? I guess the only reason I decided to share this information with you is because I found it incredibly helpful when my friends and family openly discussed their depression issues and how much medication helped them. Honestly, if it hadn't been for two women in my life who told me years ago that they were or had been on anti-depressants, and how it didn't "change" them, but helped them get through some rough periods of their life, I don't think I ever would have felt brave enough to try it for myself.
So, I figured I'd use this blog post to share with you all that I'm giving anti-depressants a try in case reading about my experience is of any benefit to you. I don't expect to be on them forever, but right now I need the help. At first I felt slightly ashamed to admit that, to myself and especially to my parents, but then I thought about how we don't judge people for needing medicine when they're sick. I mean, I would never hold it against someone who needed chemotherapy, right? Well, my nervous system is just all out of whack at the moment, so why shouldn't I take medicine to help it get better? I'm still doing other things, like cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, journaling, and obviously talking to a therapist. I'm just also adding medication to that list because my goal is to get back to feeling like myself again.
So I'll let you know how the Lexapro goes. I actually have pretty high hopes for my case. Like I said, I already feel like I'm responding pretty well to it and it just remains to be seen how it goes in the longer term.
I keep thinking about how if this is what moderate depression feels like for someone whose living situation has only been upended (but gets a lot of family and medical support), I can only imagine how hard it is for someone who's experienced real loss and trauma without the same kind of safety net. In some ways I'm kind of thankful to be going through this, because it really makes me more empathetic to others who are going through depression. I just didn't get it before. So If you're feeling low or stuck, know that I'm sending you a big hug right now.
So if you're new to the blog, you might not know that I'm going through some pretty major life changes, including getting divorced and temporarily living at home with my parents to save up money to buy my own place (renting with pets is tough, and frankly, I've been ready to own a home for a while). Since I don't want to live at my parent's house for much longer, I'm working really hard to save up the last $10,000 or so I need for my down payment.
The biggest thing I've done to reach this goal is set up a strict budget, which has mostly involved fiddling with an excel spreadsheet for the last few months until I finally came up with some realistic numbers. This has required being really honest with myself about my expenses, including looking ahead to future costs and factoring that into my savings. I've found that opening multiple savings accounts for specific purposes has been really helpful to ensure I never need to dip into my down payment money. For example, I have separate accounts for pet meds and vet bills, car maintenance, reoccurring software and website costs, medical savings for upcoming copayments and deductibles, etc., and I contribute a small amount of money into each one of these accounts every month so that when I do need to pay for any of these items, I already have the money set aside to do so.
On top of that, I've started using another cool app called Daily Budget. Basically, you input your fixed expenses and your savings goals, and then it calculates how much remaining money you have to spend per day for the rest of the month. Every purchase you make outside of those fixed expenses gets entered into the app. If you over-spend one day, then you'll have less for the remaining days. If you don't spend any money one day, then you'll have more later. It's not a groundbreaking idea, but it is helpful to have a little app that instantly does those calculations for you so there's never any question about whether you're over-spending. I guess it helps me feel more accountable and aware of where my money is going. Because it's not like I'm saving 100% of my money. Living with my parents, I think it's pretty important I get out of the house at least once a week and hang out with people my own age. That means spending a little bit on gas, parking, public transportation, drinks, what have you, but using the Daily Budget app makes sure I never over do it.
If anyone's interested in a more detailed post on how I do my budget, particularly as a freelancer, let me know. I'd be happy to share some tricks I've learned.
To get me in this savings mindset, I've also been listening to the Dave Ramsey podcast. He's not 100% my cup of tea, I don't really care for his attitude at times or his political opinions, but I generally agree with his money principles. Basically, pay off your loans and then stay out of debt however you can (excepting a mortgage) by living within your means and keeping a strict budget. Again, it's not groundbreaking, but it works, and I find it's kind of helpful to have a virtual "cheerleader" for my savings and budgeting plans. I think his books are pretty good resources as well if you're looking for some money guidance.
So I'm feeling like I have a much better handle on where my money is going, and now I need to focus on increasing my salary. Getting divorced and having my household income suddenly cut in half has been quite a blow, and I need to make up for some of that loss. Increasing my hours with my university appointment has helped, but I need to take it a step further. I have ideas about teaching an online class and finishing my science writing book to sell on Amazon (and I have a pretty large Facebook group for marketing), but it's so hard to find the time to create new things when I feel like I'm always just barely keeping up with the freelance editing. Add to that my social life, which despite being fairly marginal takes up a disproportionate amount of time because of all the commuting I have to do to the city just to be around people my own age. Sometimes, it feels like I'll never have the time to work on these extra sources of revenue, but I guess if increasing your income were easy, everyone would be doing it.
My ultimate goal with all of this is to get back my independence so I can focus on the things that are important to me, like writing and other creative pursuits. I guess I think of this as the responsible road to life as an artist. Maybe you can relate.
How are your finances these days? Any savings goals or budgeting tips you'd care to share?
I'm just going to be honest with you, I'm only writing this review in hopes of saving you $15. And before you question my motives, I also want to point out that I am a massive (massive!) Star Wars fan, and I think Carrie Fisher is actually a pretty good writer. But this book is clearly a money grab and you don't need to buy it.
The Princess Diarist received a brief whirlwind of publicity last year when it was published, primarily because in it Fisher (aka Princess Leia) revealed that she and Harrison Ford had a secret affair while making the first Star Wars movie. And if that information alone is enough for you to enjoy a book, then by all means, go ahead and read it. But for anyone else who was hoping for a little more, something that you know a personal diary might actually reveal, I'm afraid you're out of luck.
And if you're interested in how Star Wars was actually made, the first third of the book does provide a few interesting insights from Fisher's perspective, but not nearly enough. For instance, she does explain how she got the part, how she was asked (and failed) to lose weight for it, and boy does she bang on about that hair. But there's not much beyond that. Personally, I would have loved to know what it was like to film the garbage compactor scene, stuff like that, but she never really mentions any that specific from Star Wars.
The diaries themselves don't even appear until about one third of the way through the book, which I found confusing given the way the book was marketed as a diary. But frankly, that had to have been a very conscious decision because these journal entries really weren't worth publishing. I mean, if you like reading pages and pages of vague teenage angst, by all means go ahead. But I found them to be incredibly underwhelming. Mostly they repeated ad nauseam about how little she meant to Ford and how powerless she felt to end things with him. (Because he's Harrison Ford I guess? If nothing else, this book was a good lesson in why it is not ok for a person to mistreat you even if they are ridiculously good-looking.)
Also, when this book came out, both she and the media really glossed over some issues of consent between her and Ford, which is frankly inexcusable. I first heard about this book on NPR's Fresh Air, and as far as I remember, not once did Terry Gross ask Fisher about the night in question. Not ok, Terry.
The final third of the book takes a big leap into the present day, which Fisher spends complaining about her fans. Those comic book conventions you go to in hopes of getting her autograph? She calls them "lap dances," and freely admits she only does them for the money and could not care less about the fans. Actually, that's a nice way of putting it. It's not that she doesn't care about her fans, it's that she has open contempt for them.
I mean, I can kind of see where she's coming from. Yes, it would get obnoxious to have everyone compare your present day appearance to how you looked forty years ago, but did we really need to hear her mocking fans for 30 pages? And if she felt trapped into signing autographs for money, maybe she should have tried spending a little less instead of blaming people for enjoying her performance? It all left a bitter taste in my mouth, and it seemed so completely unconnected to the previous two-thirds of the book that I had to wonder whether this wasn't some massive meta-commentary. Like she was laughing at us, the readers, for buying into her lap dance of a book.
Or maybe, and this would be much worse, this writing is a serious reflection of her self-acknowledged bipolar disorder, in which case I don't feel comfortable having funded such a gross exploitation of her mental health issues. This book really does feel like it was barely edited. I guess why bother, the publisher knew it would sell regardless.
Anyway, I bought and read The Princess Diarist for a book club I just joined, and I was happy to learn that everyone else shared my opinion. We all had been looking forward to this book, and then were really disappointed upon reading it. We felt like we'd been tricked by marketing once again (see Ready Player One and The Martian). Is this phenomena unique to science fiction fans? It seems to keep happening to me. Maybe it's happening in every genre these days. Basically you can sell a lot of crappy books as long as you market them right. The reader might feel cheated at the end, but what do publishers care, they've already got their $15.
July 1 marks my one year anniversary of freelance editing! 12 months of self-employment and not once did I need to dip into savings! I made money, covered my expenses, and even put some away. I'm calling this a major win, A+! Starting my own business was the best decision I ever made, if only because I was able to prove to myself that I could do it. That's a very empowering feeling.
I didn't become a millionaire, but I'm ok with that, because the whole point of starting my editing business was to work from home and have more flexibility for writing and working on my own projects. So how'd I do on that front?
I'd give myself a B-. I definitely wrote more and I even started publishing short stories on Amazon, which have sold reasonably well. But I didn't finish the novel I started last July (nor did I manage to finish it for NaNoWriMo 2016). The first draft is probably two thirds done, yet it's just sitting on my hard drive. I know exactly what I want to do with it, I have all the scenes planned, I just haven't been able to get focused enough to execute.
And that lack of "focus" stems more from the fact that I'm utterly exhausted from reading and editing all day long. This was something I hadn't anticipated. When you read and write for a living, it makes it hard to do it for fun.
So what's the solution? Maybe treat fiction writing like it's a real job and not some side-project or hobby. I know I also need to write in the morning, which has always been my preferred habit, rather than waiting until the end of the day after I've already tired myself out with editing jobs.
The other thing I need help with is staying mentally organized. Each time I take a writing break, and this one with my novel has lasted several months now, I pretty much forget where I've left off, what plot has been established, which characters know what, etc., and figuring that all out again sounds daunting. The answer is to simply read what I've already written all the way through, but we're talking about some 30,000 words here. That's a lot! And I'm already reading and editing ~5000 words of technical writing a day for my ESL clients. It adds up.
But there's really no other answer than to dive back in. I can't stand an unfinished project, and even if there are other genres I'd prefer to be working in at the moment (my short stories are especially off genre for me and I'm sick of writing them), I still feel like this novel is something I need to finish because it has potential (in my opinion). I can't throw away a half-way decent try just because I'm a little tired. I only need to manage my time better.
Got any tips for that? Maybe having a writing partner would help keep me accountable. I'm pretty good at meeting internal and external expectations (I fall somewhere between an Upholder and Obliger on the four tendencies scale), but I always make external expectations a bigger priority. This is how I'm able to meet my clients' deadlines, but it also means that I'm only very productive in my writing when I have virtually no external expectations (and when does that ever happen).
So for this next year of freelancing, my goal is to make writing a bigger priority. Paying the bills is great, but the whole point is to achieve my creative goals: publish good books that make people happy.
So does anyone want to partner up? It could be as easy as a weekly email checking in with each other about how we did on our writing, or really anything if you have a different goal in mind. Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any interest. I would love to do it.
p.s. Please don't judge my editing skills based on this blog post or others. I'm writing this at 10 pm, which is not my finest hour of the day.
Do you watch Bojack Horseman? It's my favorite show on Netflix right now, and yes, that means I'm very late to the party, seeing as it's already done 3 seasons. But, rumor has it season 4 will be coming out in August 2017, so if you're not up to speed on this show, you have plenty of time to get caught up (and catch up you should.)
I get why it's a hard sell. It's a cartoon. It's about a rude, drug-fueled out-of work actor who just happens to be a horse named Bojack Horseman. When the show first came out a few years ago, I read the early reviews and heard that description, and while I was mildly interested (mostly because I'm a cartoon fan), I wasn't interested enough to watch. Sounded like just another show about an entitled male character. But since deciding to get divorced a few months ago, I finally had the time and inclination to see it (nothing like heartbreak to get you in the mood for Netflix).
What first drew me in was the surprising depth to the Bojack Horseman character. The show's fundamental question through each season is whether someone who is truly broken (by their parents, by their success, by their failures, by their losses) can ever be redeemed. Is Bojack beyond fixing? By outward appearances, his out-of-control drinking, drug-taking, spending, womanizing, anger, and cynicism would suggest so, but there's clearly something deeper and wholly sincere to him that makes Bojack if not likeable, at least someone you can feel compassion for.
And this depth of character isn't just limited to him; just about everyone on the show gets a similar treatment. Even the most apparently superficial character, Mr. Peanutbutter (a professional rival of Bojack's). is more complex than he seems. At first you think he's just there for a laugh, but then his story takes an interesting spin about marriage. I mean, how many TV shows feature a marriage on the rocks that slowly recovers? None, right? So you wouldn't expect a cartoon to be the one that does it. Yet it does and it works.
The second thing that drew me into the show was its bizarre universe. Animals and people live and work together, and it's not remotely commented on. For example, Bojack is a horse, his agent is a cat, his roommate is a twenty-something-year-old man, his rival is a Labrador Retriever, and his ghostwriter is a Vietnamese American woman. The show feels no need to explain this, which is great (no fucking origin stories here). All of the animal characters make for some fun visual puns and jokes, which probably only works because the character design is so top-notch (actually, it was an interview with the artist, Lisa Hanawalt, on the Imaginary Worlds podcast that got me interested in giving Bojack Horseman a shot).
And then like The Simpsons before it, part of the appeal of Bojack Horseman is that this universe is totally self-contained and self-consistent. There must be a cast of a hundred recognizable characters. Small details that happen in one episode will reappear again in later seasons For example, after Bojack steals the letter "D" from the Hollywood sign in L.A., the characters simply start referring to the area as "Hollywoo," and they unironically do this for the rest of the series. Another example is how "sexy" characters are almost always marine mammals, like orcas and dolphins. What the hell is that all about? I don't know, but the consistency of the absurdity makes it funny.
Maybe it's just me, but I love details like that. It's one of those shows I won't listen to while I'm doing something else. You need to really watch it to catch all the jokes since so much of it is visual-based, making a cartoon the perfect medium for it, since anything can be drawn into the story.
All in all, I think Bojack Horseman is an unusually good TV show. There are a few slow episodes here and there, but the overall arc of each full season is excellent. My personal favorite episode was the one that takes place underwater and is completely silent - a great nod to the old cartoons that didn't have a lick of dialogue. This seems to drive some people crazy (see all the people who didn't like Wall-E), but I love it. Let the pictures tell the story, that's the strength of cartoons.
Guess I've banged on about Bojack for long enough. I'm curious though, are you a fan? Seems like it has a cult following, but I don't know anyone in real life who watches it.
p.s. Alison Brie, who does the voice of Diane the ghostwriter in Bojack Horseman (and was Trudy in Mad Men), has another new show on Netflix, called Glow, which is about a real-life female wrestling league in the 80's. I just started it last night and I was pretty entertained. We'll see where it goes, but if you're on the fence, I think it's worth watching.
It's been almost exactly three months since we separated, and the days of debilitating heart ache may be somewhat behind me. Except for that little blip I experienced immediately after I moved out my things, I've been feeling much better, more hopeful. Occasionally, I'll get a lonely pang, but it passes, and before I know it, I'm thinking about something else besides him. I guess it's true, time heals all wounds. Not that I would declare myself "healed" exactly, just that some of the worst of it may be finally over. (Although I feel like I keep saying that...)
So besides time, what else has helped me get to this point? Honestly? Staying busy.
My editing work has picked up again. I have no idea why it trailed off like it did in April and May, but things seem to be back on track. Maybe it was a seasonal fluctuation? Or maybe it was the universe deciding I needed to take some time off? Who knows. Thankfully I have a part-time appointment working for a professor, so my work and funds didn't totally dry up during that period. And now my base-line salary has actually grown as I've increased my hours with that professor. My freelance workload has also returned to normal (if not a bit on the heavy side). I can't complain. Making more money is certainly better than making less.
I've also realized that I'm ready to start rebuilding my social network. I've licked my wounds, and now it's time to get back out there. Moving away and losing my friends has been one of the harder parts of this divorce. It took me years to find those people in Chapel Hill, and I'm really going to miss them. Now I'm starting over again, but at least it's in a place where I still have a few friends and family. And D.C. is certainly not lacking for thirty-somethings. I just have to find them.
To do that, I've joined (and attended) several Meetups. I've been going to a couple drawing related ones. I also joined two different book clubs, figuring I would try both and see which was the best fit (two men enter, one shall leave....). I also signed up for a studio art class at the Smithsonian, which I am super excited for. It starts in a few weeks. The Smithsonian was one of the biggest things I missed when I moved away from D.C. So now that I'm back, I figured I should take advantage of it again. Their classes are very reasonably priced when you consider all the studio time you get. I'm also now a proud member of the Smithsonian, so I get discounts on different events and lectures they're always running. Maybe I'm a nerd, but museum events and lectures are my idea of heaven. Hopefully I'll meet some like-minded people there, and if not, hey at least I got to do some cool stuff.
And then there's travel. This weekend I'm visiting my best friend in Dallas. We have big plans of drinking in the back yard, going out for brunch, and taking her dogs to the Arboretum. It's exactly the kind of relaxation that I need right now. I'm also going to pick her brain a bit about online dating. I really don't feel up to it at the moment, but I also don't want to close myself off entirely. Maybe she'll have some insights about it.
Then in a few weeks, I'll take the bus up to New York and visit my brother and cousins. I just want to hang out and maybe go to the Met or MoMa. And who knows, maybe I'll be a little crazy and get one of those disgusting looking milkshakes that have a cupcake wedged in them (seriously, so gross...yet so mesmerizing - must try).
Creatively, I've been writing a little bit, and I'm calling that a major win after going through a drought for several months. I just couldn't do it before. And like I said, I've been doing a bit of drawing, which is something I LOVED in high school. I've even taken the piano back up. I'm out of practice, but I'm also having a good time learning some of these Studio Ghibli pieces by Joe Hisaishi.
Finally, pouring my heart out to a counselor every two weeks has been incredibly helpful and cathartic. She's tough on me when I get hard on myself, and that's made a world of difference - just pointing out how negative I can be about myself. Now that I see the pattern, I'm finding it easier to shut down before it spirals out of control.
Other than that I'd say making time for exercise and yoga has made a big difference in how I feel physically. I'm eating mostly healthy foods and taking long walks with the dog. On the advice of my counselor, I've also taken up meditation again (despite my mixed feelings about it). I will say that at this moment, when I feel so emotionally out of whack, it has made a difference.
So yeah, staying busy, making art, and talking to a professional has helped me out a lot. Having the support of my family is another huge difference maker. I know I'm really lucky to have all of these things, so I'm going to make the best of it.
How about you? Any tips for rebuilding post-divorce or breakup? I'd love to hear your comments.
Writing Streak: 0 days
My Books on Amazon:
Waking Lions by Avelet Gundar-Goshen
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro