Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hello, Sunshine!

I broke my rule--I posted that last one without sleeping on it first.  Sometimes it takes a night to realize that I shouldn't say something that I'm going to look back on later in red-faced horror.  But I've also noticed that whatever I write after sunset comes out with gothic misery.  So...I think we're overdue for some daylight writing here.

A few weeks ago, the lovely and sweet Attorney At Large nominated me for a Sunshine award!  The rules of the game are that you have to give yourself a 10 question interview.  A whole post just to talk about myself?  Well, if you insist!  Wait, you don't .... sorry, I can't hear you over there.  Let's do this! 

1. Why did you go to law school?  
I wanted to go for a masters in British Literature, but I didn't want to have to move all around the country for professorships once I got out.  Law school seemed like a default choice--my dad and older sister were lawyers at the time, so it was the family trade in a way.*  What finally swayed me was an article I found when researching my undergraduate thesis.  It said most novelists in the Victorian era were 1) sea captains, 2) lawyers, and 3) patent clerks.**  Since there are no seas requiring captaining in the desert, I thought law school would set me on my way to either lawyering or patent clerking, either of which would fund my novel-writing career. 

2. How'd that work out?  
Not great!  In 11 years since I went to law school, I had quite a few incomplete manuscripts but no finished pieces.  Now that I'm a part-timer, I'm working to finish a complete draft by the end of 2012.  I plan to write three loosely-related historical romance novels, one standalone novel, and then switch to fantasy.  I like both genres, but since romance novels have stricter conventions, I wanted to use them to learn by doing before I switch to a looser format with more world-building. 

3. Probably should have just become a sea captain, huh?
No, hubby's the sailor.  He never was a sea captain, but back in the day, he did a lot of crewing for amateur yacht racing.  In addition to sailing on the local lakes, he's done a lot of sailing on San Francisco Bay, and once even beat Dennis Connor in a 1D35 race.  I'm somewhat convinced that hubby was bitten by a radioactive albatross at some point--he can see wind.  It's freaky. 

4. So, what are your favorite books?  
#1 for certain is Master and Commander, by Patrick O'Brian
#2 rotates depending on the day and mood: Jane Eyre, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, Great Expectations, Jurassic Park, Howard's End, Bleak House, The Rake's Guide to Pleasure, Lord of Scoundrels, Dreaming of You, the Hobbit, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot. 

5. What do you do for fun?  
You mean, other than the 500 hours a week I spend fooling around on the internet?  For the last few years, I've been doing a lot of fancy baking--I got certified as a Wilton professional cake-decorator years ago.  I like to do mostly cupcakes and cookies, because those are the easiest canvases to prepare that I can use to play with frosting.  Before that I was into quilting, but I stopped because H was scared of the sewing machine when she was little.  I recently got some jewelry-making supplies, and I've been very seriously considering taking up canning/food preserving.

6. Do you have any special skills?  
I'm a really awesome gift giver.  I stay on alert for potential presents for people all year round, and then I stockpile them until the right holiday comes along. At one point, I considered starting a side business selling gifts.  I make these really cool baby-shower cakes out of diapers and stuff--way cuter than what you can find online--with hand-pieced baby quilts (I like cute but not fussy, a little bit of a modern feel.)  But because I'm a stickler for legality, the CSPIA killed that idea.  For a few years I did it as a hobby and just gave them away for free, but it got to be too much.  Same thing with the baking--I always had to turn down money for cakes I baked for people because selling them legally would have cost me thousands.  After awhile, the whole thing becomes really disillusioning. 

7. That sucks.  Would you like some easier questions?
Yes, please!

8. Alright ... what's your favorite color?  
Green.  I live in a desert.  My soul longs for green things, and the only ones I can grow are basil and mold.   

9.  Weak, dude.  I can't believe you answered the color question.  
Believe it--and I'm counting this one too.   People like shorter blog posts, so let's wrap this up.

10.  Um, I can't think of any other questions.  So, how about: How are you?  
That's not a bad question.  I'm doing fine.  Adjusting to the reality of staying at home/working at home has been tougher than I anticipated.  But we're all trying to make this work, and it's working. 

11. Bonus question:  
Oh crap.  Aren't you done yet?

12.  Just let me ask--you're going to like this one.
Fine.  Spit it out.  <grumble grumble>

13. You know, we'd be done already if you could stay on task.
Story of my life, dude.

14. Can it.  Okay?  Here's your last question: What's your favorite punctuation mark?
Ooh, I do like that question.  Em-dash!  I love me some em-dashes.  Oh, and I thought of another one--ask me about serial commas!

15.  I thought you wanted to be done already?  
Come on, I've indulged you long enough.

16.  Oh, you're indulging something here all right.  Fine.  Serial commas.  What say you? 
SERIAL COMMA OR GTFO.

Phew.  Just had to get that off my chest.




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Thanks to Attorney At Large for this.  I had fun, and it was really nice to be thought of during a few otherwise crappy days.  I'm not going to pass it on because I don't know 10 other bloggers, but check out her blog to see her self-interview. 

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*The suit in Bleak House, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, is based on a real case called Day v. Croft.  I'm sure it's coincidence, but I think it would be really neat if it turned out I was descended from Days so litigious they inspired an epic novel.  It would explain a lot, too.  As of today, 3/4 siblings are lawyers, 2/3 of our spouses are lawyers, and Mom just got admitted, so she's a lawyer now too. 

**I don't even remember if the article was serious or satire, let alone whether it was accurate, but it seemed reasonable, and therefore, good enough to base major life decisions on!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Outlying


All through school, I begged my parents to let me take an IQ test.  I particularly wanted it when we got back our standardized test scores.  I always scored in the top 2-3 percentile, but I wanted to know how I measured up against adults.  

After I was an adult, my mom explained why they never let me.  She was afraid that I would do really well and get even more insufferable.  But, she also thought there was a chance I would not do well (or at least not as well as I wanted to) and were that to happen, it would destroy me. 

My mom is a smart lady.

Recognizing the wisdom in that, I refrained from taking a formal IQ test.  But there have been some other standardized tests (SAT, LSAT) that seem to indicate that I’m nearer to the pointy-end of the bell curve’s rightward slope, particularly for a female. 

IQ is a notoriously poor predictor for real-world success.

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This is to be a blog about writing. 

From Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer (1934):

First of all, then, becoming a writer is mainly a matter of cultivating a writer’s temperament.  Now the very word “temperament” is justly suspect among well-balanced persons, so I hasten to say that it is no part of the program to inculcate a wild-eyed bohemianism, or to set up moods and caprices as necessary accompaniments of the author’s life.  On the contrary; the moods and tempers, when they actually exist, are the symptoms of the artist’s personality gone wrong—running off into waste effort and emotional exhaustion. 
I think I have a problem. 

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I don’t understand how it happened, but I somehow inhabit the life of an adult, married, solidly upper-middle class Caucasian woman with a child and a professional career.  But I am a cool person and a free thinker, so when I am in the mood for media aimed at flattering the sensibilities of my demographic, I avoid the New York Times and listen to TED talks instead.   

After spending my unexpectedly limited unemployment period getting my house clean, it has once again degenerated into a reality-show horror.  (Not Hoarders-level bad.  More like Clean House-level.)  So when I found myself in the midst of an extended session of scrubbing pots and pans, I used my iPhone TED app to pull up some edification—preferably edification within the narrow band of “inspiring” talks that flatter creative desires.  I found a brand-new talk by Brene Brown, the “vulnerability researcher” whose first talk I remember vaguely liking despite the fairy-land squishiness of her no-doubt made-up job title.  Perfect.

Brene spends the first minutes of the new talk discussing the vulnerability she felt after her first talk, when she had second-thoughts about admitting her breakdown in a public forum.  It reminded me that my response, back then at least, was to wonder what a breakdown would even look like in an adult, married, solidly upper-middle class Caucasian woman with children and a professional career.  Ahem.   

In the new talk, she admitted a secret she’d kept in her first talk: that the true nature of her research isn’t vulnerability—it’s shame.  She explained that feelings of guilt correlated with more positive character traits versus shame, which had a negative correlation with those same traits.  Explaining the difference between them, she said: “Guilt is knowing that you’ve made a mistake.  Shame is knowing you are a mistake.” 

That is how my husband arrived home from work to find me weeping into the kitchen sink. 

I am not quite sure how that happened either. 

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I thought I had fixed this. 

I am naturally anxious.  It’s in my neurochemistry.  The particular compulsions don’t manifest in any thrilling or unique ways.  Traced back to their headwaters, my fears are from the same source as everyone’s: mortality.  Maybe it just hangs heavier on some people.

It’s such an odd thing now, with the benefit of an adult mind, to look through the one-way glass to youth and to find out that your outsized fear of mortality may be what drew you toward strange behaviors.  And while the reasons may be neurochemical, that doesn’t mean they aren’t also wholly you. 

Umberto Eco says that the human mind uses lists to impose order on and to understand infinity.  From Eco’s interview We Like Lists Because We Don't Want to Die:  

SPIEGEL: Why do we waste so much time trying to complete things that can't be realistically completed?
Eco: We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death.   
But aren’t all lists about mortality?  Putting items on a list—especially a to-do list—admits the boundedness of time.   

Obsession with hyperproductivity seems within the particular province of people highly influenced by fear of mortality. 

It makes sense that the Myers-Briggs subset of rationals would be temperamentally inclined toward thoughts of mortality.  The universe is infinite.  Death imposes at least a binary order.

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Mortality forces an accounting.  What have you done with your life? 

. . . and, we’re back to shame. 

Once again, I found myself completely overwhelmed today.  50 hours of things to do, 24 hours in which to do them.  And while I was in the anxiety spiral, the thought zipped through my brain today: “Nothing I do will ever be enough”—a plaintive wail at the unreasonableness of the demands on my time—followed instantly by the thought: “Of course not, if I can do it, then it isn’t enough by definition.”  I was surprised at how automatically that occurred to me, how sad and mean.  But when I thought about it, it made sense from a coldly logical perspective.  Shame has been the desired outcome of my subconscious.  To motivate me--shame achieves the system's goals.  Mine is: To make up for lost time before the accounting.  

A problem: being ashamed of your life is miserable.      

And here’s a worse problem (or, at least, what I consider to be a worse problem, which should tell you how deep I’m in this): shame is killing my productivity. 

I was supposed to be an outlier.  I always was at school.  I was at work, before motherhood at least.  And after, I was an outlier in what I could get away with.  But now, where the centerpiece of my production is supposed to be my novel, I realize that being an outlier isn’t a role, it’s a relationship.  It means only measurement against a group.  

A writer spends her day alone with the work.  There’s no way to measure, which means there’s no safety--“I got this grade, I billed this many hours, I’m enough.”  And while I think it’s possible that I might someday be a good writer, I don’t think I’ll ever be an outlier. 

The more time I spend alone out here, the less my anxiety coping strategies seem to work.  Actually, it’s just one coping strategy: (1) pick any sensory-stimulating behavior, (2) repeat until sick, (3) relax into the calm as the brain diverts all resources to focusing on how uncomfortable the body is.  While this may be the epitome of the first-world problem, you can see how living this way creates a kind of misery.

So I write.  A little.  And then I delete. 

Mortality isn’t the problem, it’s the paralyzing fear.   I need to get this anxiety under control for my happiness and for my work.  And, not incidentally, for my family, who should not have to put up with this either. 

You know how they say that to get past your fears, you have to face them?

There is one thing I know that will fix my brain and get me through this.  But it costs. 



The medication worked beautifully when I tried it very briefly a few years ago, except for the one side effect: 

Mental dullness.  

Who will I even be? 

I think I will have to find out.  I just want to work.