Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

Trudging Through January

I need to be honest with myself about something. It’s okay to not enjoy what you’re doing. It’s a valid way to feel, especially in January when sunlight is at a premium and the cold snaps suck the life out of your bones and soul.

The project I’m handling for work right now started out as okay. It was given to me in a rough state, and I had plenty of warning regarding its requirements and inflexible deadline. The editor asked specifically for me to handle it, which was flattering and confidence-boosting, and my copy chief gave me a general raise for the consistently excellent quality of my work (woo!) plus an extra project-specific raise because it was heavy and on a tight deadline. I went in very positively. And as the pages dragged on, I got more and more bogged down. I began to feel irritated with the author for not doing her work properly. And then as I hit the halfway point, that irritation bloomed into fully formed anger, and I started dragging my figurative heels. Working on it made me feel so negative that I found all sorts of ways to not work on it, which is unlike me. (Having to go the grocery store every day this week was not a way to avoid work; it was necessity because things weren’t being written on the list as they were needed, and while it gave me a bit of the break in the morning between dropping the kids off and coming home to work, it was still frustrating on another level.) I was having so much trouble that I couldn’t choose music to work to, which is a sign that something has gone very, very wrong indeed. Nothing worked.

I have to struggle with some inner tension about this. I don’t like not enjoying what I do. I take pride in my work, and I get seriously upset when others don’t. When sitting down to work became an instant trigger for anger, I needed to step back and think about what I was doing and how I was handling it. It’s my job to fix other people’s writing. If they did it right the first time, I would be out of that job. I was requested for this project because I am sensitive to an author’s reception of an edited manuscript. (Been there, done that, and apparently I am also naturally gentle and civil in my communication.) Part of my frustration is also stemming from how slow my pages-per-hour rate has been, because the manuscript needs so much work. I’m working hard and feeling like I’m getting nowhere, which is always guaranteed to tax my patience.

I know part of my tension is also coming from the weather. We’re suffering an incredibly bitter cold snap right now. The kids haven’t been able to play outside for a week, which means that the daily high temperature has been below -25 C for over a week now. Owlet is going through some kind of developmental phase where her own patience is being tested, and she’s flipping into tantrum mode so easily that we’re kind of taken aback, because it’s very unlike her to do that. Sparky is working on taking responsibility for bringing home the correct books and papers necessary to do his homework, and you can read between the lines there and extrapolate the frustration both of us are feeling about that.

So I have had to step back and disengage from my personal frustration about this project. I am here to help this person. Being angry about the uneven research and the vague, circuitous writing and incomplete sentences doesn’t help. It’s my job to turn lazy, vague writing into succinct, active prose that conveys information clearly to the reader. This is a non-fiction project (as my last three have been — hmm, that’s interesting; I edit fiction more quickly, I must remember that) so I’m doing a lot of fact-checking. That slows my pages-per-hour rate a lot.

I will put on yet another pot of tea, and get back to it, now that I feel a bit more grounded and on an even keel again. Sometimes I just need to write it out.

Stuff I Did In 2013

Wow. Busy year.

Knitted two and a half pairs of socks. No, actually, if we’re adding up individual socks I knit three full pairs, because I knit three for Sparky’s Gryffindor socks, two for my slipper socks, and one so far for my own pair of regular socks. Ha ha! Six socks! (Too bad that’s not how it actually works. Sigh.)

I knit a complete child’s pullover sweater. How crazy is that. It was also my first test knit for someone.

I knit one and a half cap-sleeve sweaters for myself. The half is because I had a half-done one languishing in my cupboard since something like 2006, I finished it, realized it wouldn’t fit, frogged it all, and reknit it. It’s technically finished, but I need to undo the bindoff and add an inch to the bottom. I should add that I made some original modifications to the neck and sleeves that actually worked. I think I’m getting this knitting thing.

I knit a lot of blanket squares for my friends in my online mums group. And then I seamed two of those blankets together and knit the borders on each from yarn spun especially for them.

I spun twelve ounces of yarn for a friend’s project. I spun a similarly crazy amount for my mother’s stunning cabled wrap, and then dyed it, too. And I wonder why I don’t have a lot to show for my spinning time this year. Most of it belongs to other people!

In other areas of my life, I switched the bread recipe I use, and I’m liking the more artisanal loaf we get from it. I also started making my own yogurt, which is a big thing because I loathe yogurt. HRH and Owlet adore it, though.

I stopped using commercial cleansers and moisturizers on my face, observing how much happier and healthier my hair and scalp were when I quit using sodium lauryl/laureth-laden shampoos and silicone-sibling conditioners, and thinking that my face would probably react in a similarly positive fashion. Turns out my face is much happier not being stripped of everything (good and bad) and then having stuff smoothed back on to rehydrate it. I’m using the oil-cleansing method, and my tricky-to-handle, acne-prone face has never been happier. So happy, in fact, that I only have to do it every two days. So yeah, colour me impressed. (Also appalled at the ruthlessly-strip-then-requires-deep-moisturizing-with-unhappy-stuff-that-needs-to-be-stripped cycle that our consumer society has tricked us into repeating endlessly.)

I cut my hair, a lot. I’m hacking off three-quarters of an inch every four to five weeks. It’s nuts. I thought a couple of times that I’d grow it longer again, but I look so tired when it’s shoulder length that snip, off it comes, and I look so much healthier and brighter with it at about chin length again.

I was pretty healthy overall, the trip to the dermatologist and his concern over one of my moles aside. (That’s being taken off and sent for analysis next June. It’s difficult to reconcile “concern” with an eight-month wait for removal and analysis, but whatever.) The other health scare that had me sent a specialist also ended up fine, so another deep sigh of relief and hurrah for that. (Also, I now have a gynaecologist who is awfully nice.) I went back on my fibro medication this summer, and after a two-month period where it felt like it wasn’t doing anything, things suddenly clicked into place and the pain is manageable and energy levels are more consistent. Sleep is less of an issue, although still a big sensitive spot for me.

I kept up with Downton Abbey and Sherlock, we discovered the My Little Pony reboot, and I dropped Game of Thrones because the level of depicted violence and sex turned me off. I know, I know; I’ve read all the books. But the way HBO is portraying it is different, and it’s not enjoyable to watch for me. And life is too short to make myself read crappy books or watch TV that I don’t enjoy. I’m getting very good at cutting stuff like that out of my life.

In fact, I’ve looked back over the past couple of years, and I’ve done a better job at releasing toxic friendships and limiting contact with people who stress me out. I have a limited amount of energy to keep myself going. I need to protect it. I’m doing a pretty good job at saying no and focusing on the most important things in my life.

I’ve done some editing work that I’m very proud of, both private and through the publisher I work with. I’ve had the privilege of reading some great stuff before its release and helping to make it even better. I love my work, even when it drives me to excessive chocolate consumption like the most recent ones did. (Oh dear gods. You will never know, because the resulting books have correct facts and dates and are stronger in general. That’s what I do, and I’m fine being anonymous.)

I didn’t have a lot of time for cello, but I seem to be doing okay in that area. Just getting out once a week and carrying through on the orchestral commitment was a priority. We played some great stuff in orchestra, and I’m proud of my Suzuki work, too.

I read much less than I usually do (hmm, I should start including the books I edit; those totally count, why do I not do that already?). Although “usually” has taken a hit these past threeish years, so maybe this new lower finished frequency is the new normal. Standouts for me were the second in Elizabeth Bear’s Steles of the Sky trilogy and Kerstin Gier’s entire Ruby Red trilogy. I finally got around to reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, which was lovely. And courtesy of Tamu, I got to attend Neil Gaiman’s only Montreal book signing/reading tour stop ever (it’s hard to believe, but his previous stops here have been con-related, and he retired from touring after The Ocean at the End of the Lane one ended).

Music-wise I discovered The Doubleclicks, who should adopt me, because wow, it’s like they know everything inside my head. Also, cello.

Lest We Forget

I remember, today and always.

War’s not the answer most of the time; it’s often an excuse that veils another agenda. But that’s not going to stop me from honouring the men and women whose job it was/is, or who volunteer(ed), to go out and risk their lives in confrontations beyond what most of us can envision. It’s their commitment and courage I honour on Remembrance Day. I honour our peacekeepers, too, the people who go to other countries to help rebuild after times of turmoil. And support staff — doctors, drivers, cooks, all those people who are necessary and who rarely get recognition for being in danger as well. And those left at home, who carry the double burden of hope and dread for their loved ones.

There has to be a better way. But even when someone figures it out, I’ll keep on saying thank you to all those individuals who gave lives, limbs, time, and innocence to the wars. I honour and respect their personal decisions, even if I disagree with the governmental decisions that created the need for them.

Happy Owlyblogaversary

Art by Paul DowlingYesterday marked eleven years of owlyblogging.

I’ve been having trouble wrapping my mind around units of time recently. Ninety percent of my CD collection dates from college and university, for example (and not because I embraced the digital form of albums, but rather because the money had somewhere else to go, I wasn’t in record shops as often, or I just wasn’t as excited by new releases as I used to be). Most of my bookcases date from the same era, the contents of said bookcases covering twenty-five years of purchases (again, book buying has taken a severe hit recently, in the last five to seven years). The majority of furniture in any given room is either secondhand (donated or, more rarely, purchased), and the few pieces that were purchased new were done so over seven to ten years ago.

And then I realised that Sparky has only another four years in elementary school (mind = blown), and my concept of time took another sucker punch. I’m sure yours just has, too. You’re welcome.

I have met some wonderful, wonderful people through blogging, people whom I consider good friends even though we have not met in real life. I have even been fortunate enough to meet a handful face to face and tell them what they mean to me. I am thankful for this mode of journaling, and for this method of communication, even though I do it primarily for myself. Thank you, dear readers, for journeying along with me, some of you for the entire eleven years, some of you only for a few days, weeks, or months so far. It is lovely to have you here.


Farewell, Nixie

I am back from the vet with an empty pet carrier and a Nixie-shaped hole in my heart.

It was time, but that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. It also didn’t help that her veins were collapsing so they couldn’t insert the IV properly, and had to inject her in the abdomen, which meant that she went more slowly (although with the sedative and painkiller they’d already given her, she wasn’t feeling anything by that point). At least I got to hold her close in my arms until she stopped breathing. It felt right, like it was a fitting bookend to how often I had held her as a newborn kitten to feed her, to make sure she lived.

Born to a feral cat being fostered by a friend who lived a few blocks away, Nixie was the tiniest one of the litter, very tiny indeed, and we didn’t think she’d make it without help. So I went over once or twice a day to give her extra meals and cuddles. Naturally, when she was old enough, she came home with me. She never really got very big, remaining the size of an adolescent kitten. She was perfect the way she was.

She used to sleep behind a row of books on the bottom shelf of a bookcase. If she’d been rolling on the floor and had motes of dust in her fur, when she walked through a sunbeam she looked like she was the velvety blackness of space with tiny sparkling galaxies scattered through. She liked to sleep in tiny hidey-holes, particularly shelves. In her later years, she slept next to my pillow at night, though this past year she’s slept on a blanket upstairs in the attic office. Her fur was the silkiest I’ve ever felt on a cat. I loved her purr, and how she would delicately reach out with a paw and just the tiniest bit of unsheathed claw to pat my hand or my cheek, to coax me into stroking her.

We had just over ten wonderful years together.

She was light enough to be able to jump up and balance on my cello in its soft case (and don’t think I didn’t find her napping inside the empty case when she thought she could get away with it!):

She would lie on my desk and keep me company while I worked:

Sparky took a really neat photo of her when he was about four:

But this is how I will always remember her, lithe, with big green eyes, sitting in the sun on my bookshelves.

Thank you, sweet little cat, for being my dear companion, for loving us all, and for enriching our lives with your delicate personality. Say hello to Maggie, Gulliver, and Roman for us. Sparky told me last night that Maggie would be waiting for you, to show you the best sunny spots and grass to play in. And I’m not going to argue with the eerily insightful seven-year-old, because honestly, I think he’s right.

To The Jerk Who Tossed Our Car

Hey, punk.

I get it. You were probably with some friends, feeling big and dangerous, and you tried car doors all down the street. And for some unfathomable reason — we always lock our doors — ours opened.

You tossed the car looking for stuff of value. You didn’t take the registration or the insurance, or the car itself, and that’s how we know you were a kid, not a serious thief. You left it a mess, but you didn’t break anything, and you only took one thing.

The FM transmitter for our iPod.

Our first one broke about ten months ago, and I’ve been without one for that long, because sure, they’re only about forty bucks, but we didn’t have that money for something that wasn’t groceries or bills. We got another one on sale just two weeks ago, so I could finally listen to my orchestra work on the way to rehearsal again, and we could listen to the Harry Potter audiobook we got. We have another eight-hour trip coming up this weekend, and we were really looking forward to that audiobook. It was going to be a huge treat for the whole family.

We work really hard for what little we have, and we work by the rules. And in a couple of minutes, you ruined that. And you know when we found out? At the end of a day where we had finally decided, after a lot of angst, that yes, we could afford the gas to drive to visit my parents for Easter weekend, so that our kids could see the grandparents they only see about five times a year. It was also the day where after we’d made that decision, I discovered that one of my little cats is sick, possibly very, very sick, and had a crisis because I couldn’t afford to both take that trip and take the cat to the vet. Friends stepped in (many friends offered their help, and I love them all so very much for their caring and support) and now I can do both. But it was a really, really bad day. Then you made it worse when we found that you’d invaded our privacy and taken the one thing that has made my life in the car a lot more bearable after months of frustration. Add the sense of violation and anger at feeling ineffective to it all, and you’ve got what my day was like.

One good thing has come of this. We now know that the wonky driver’s side master locking switch is officially fried and unreliable, despite its helpful beeps that say it’s working, which means we’ll have to walk around the car, open the passenger side door, and use that one. I suppose I should be thankful that you didn’t steal the CDs (although most of them are copies because I don’t like taking originals in the car, as they get scratched), or the kids’ car seats, which would have put paid to any travel anywhere. But you know what? I find it really, really hard to be thankful for anything associated with this.

In closing, I hope that the moment you plug that transmitter into a car it blows out the whole electric system of the vehicle, and you have to pay a craptonne of money to repair it. I hope it fries whatever MP3 player you plug into it. I hope that bad luck dogs every step you take, because you stole a $40 bit of electronic equipment that a family down on its luck saved up to buy, to give themselves a bit of sunshine in their stressful lives.

LATER: Fortuitously found a cheap replacement FM transmitter in a flyer that just arrived for a discount electronics place around the corner. Shall check it out tomorrow. I refuse to let this get me down.

Goodbye, Second Chair — For Now

Last night at orchestra I sat in the back of the cello section instead of as second chair.

I’ve been second chair since, oh, about four years ago, I think? Possibly more. It’s a somewhat terrifying position, because I’m right in front of the conductor, but it’s also a very educational position, because I’m next to our principal (who also happens to be my teacher) and I learn so much from absorbing her technique that way.

But it’s been increasingly less beneficial and more self-detrimental. Like last time I had a baby, I had no intention of dropping orchestra: cello is my one activity that gets me out of the house, my one thing that’s just for me. But unlike last time, this baby doesn’t nap placidly in a basket the way Sparky did in his first few months; she will not sleep unless she’s curled up on or with someone. If Owlet doesn’t sleep, then (a) I can’t work and make money, like I’d planned to be doing by now, and (b) I don’t get practice time. As a result, I’ve been showing up unprepared, and sitting where the conductor can clearly hear your unpreparedness is not relaxing, or even challenging; it’s just awful. Add to that the fact that I’m expected to lead the section if the principal cannot be there, which has happened once or twice so far this season, and it’s a recipe for disaster. I’m not doing the amount of work that’s required for this commitment, and that’s been increasingly stressing me out over the past couple of months. And while I can’t afford the time to prep for orchestra, I also can’t practice for my cello lesson. Heck, I haven’t been practicing at all. Which kind of makes a weekly cello lesson pointless, and made me feel like I was wasting my teacher’s time.

Then I took into account our general financial position at the moment, as I’m not working because Owlet doesn’t nap on her own, and the fact that it’s a forty-five minute drive both ways and a quarter tank of gas for the round trip… and all that added to the lack of practice meant that it was time to be Responsible. I am fully aware that playing the cello is a luxury. It is not a necessity, like food and mortgage and utilities are. Not working, and not qualifying for maternity benefits because I missed the minimum income required last year (never mind that I made more than enough the four years before that, grr), has really put a strain on our finances. Paying for the boy’s weekly lessons is one thing. Paying for my own on top of them makes for a monthly bill I can no longer cover. And finally, while our yearly orchestra dues aren’t high, it’s still a chunk of money I don’t have at the moment, and I’ve been feeling guilty about not having paid them yet.

So last week at my cello lesson, I told my teacher reluctantly that I had to drop to doing a lesson every two weeks instead of weekly, and that I might have to drop orchestra altogether, and explained why. I said I knew this probably meant I wouldn’t get to perform my solo for the Christmas recital, since we’d only have a couple of lessons before the dress rehearsal. I didn’t suggest dropping out entirely, because I’m in a lot of group pieces and my line would need to be covered somehow, and we only have a couple of group rehearsals left. Dropping out entirely and forcing everyone to rebalance would have been the less responsible thing to do.

My teacher, star that she is, proceeded to work out alternate arrangements for everything. My solo, she said, was in excellent shape already, and she felt it would be fine, although we could re-evaluate a week or two before the recital. As I’d still be bringing Sparky to his cello lessons weekly (he is much too young to drop to a regular biweekly schedule), she said I could play through my solo piece for ten minutes after his lesson on the days that I didn’t have lesson, just to keep an eye on how things were evolving to catch problems before they became bigger. She even considered letting me play her own cello on those days, so I wouldn’t need to bring my instrument for ten minutes of play, but they’re different sizes and the shift distances would be different. And then she suggested doing something similar for orchestra: since I had the music for the current concert and we’d done the work already, why not drop to every two weeks for that as well, and switch places with another player in the section until I was back on my feet and could return full-time.

I was so grateful. I’m very lucky to have a teacher and section leader who understands, and who is willing to work with me to allow me to still engage in an activity that I enjoy. And last night I discussed my fee payment with the person in charge of collecting our dues (who also happens to be the person with whom I switched places in the section, and a fellow student of my teacher’s with whom I’ve played duets and who has come up to sit with me when our principal has been absent) and we agreed that I’d just bring in ten or twenty dollars every rehearsal until my fee had been paid in full.

Sitting in the back of the section removed so much of my physical, mental, and emotional stress. I no longer felt like the conductor was hovering over me with a ruler, ready to smack my wrists if I made a mistake (which he wasn’t at all; that’s completely and totally my guilty conscience projecting my sense of failure onto the situation). I probably played better last night than I had for the last six weeks.

This was a tough decision, don’t get me wrong. I don’t like admitting that I can’t handle what’s asked of me. And I hate feeling like I’m letting people down. I’m so relieved that a solution has been found, one that’s even better than the only solution I could see.

And then today, Miss Owlet came upstairs with me and sat quite happily playing with dangly things in a bouncy chair while I practiced for twenty minutes. So there is hope for fitting semi-regular practice into my day again. I’m hoping we’ll be in a better financial position in the new year, and that I’ll be able to work for a couple of hours every day by then, and have enough money to cover weekly lessons and gas to them and orchestra.