Metrolingua

I did Nanowrimo again...but this is it!
Even though I told myself I would not do Nanowrimo again, I did it this year, and finished in time. I can't believe I wrote so intensely for a month, but I did, and I feel like I just ran a writing marathon. The only requirement is to write 50,000 words of fiction, what they call a "novel," but there's no way the novel is good. The writing has to be immediate, unedited, and spontaneous, otherwise you end up editing and thinking and slowing down, which means more words to write per day, which means you never get ahead.

I decided to do it because I thought I wouldn't have much work, and figured with the extra downtime I could work on achieving this goal. But I ended up having more work than I thought, thus I should have not continued, but I'd already announced my project on the Nanowrimo site, and I wanted to finish what I started. That meant lots of writing at odd times, which made me super-tired and sort of stressed, because I had to do my regular work, meet deadlines, but also get lots of words in per day (or every few days if I was under word count).

As with last year, this year I learned and experienced a lot, including:

1 - When I know the end, it's easier to write to it. I didn't start out writing the end, but when I was almost at 50k, I decided to write it because it had crystallized as I'd written a bunch of random stuff over the month. If I do want to shape it into a more decent story, I definitely know where I want it to lead, so creating scenes and characters will be easier.

2 - I developed a new habit. I was already writing at least a few times a week, but I was so consistently and intensely writing, that when it was all done, I was already on that treadmill. It became a part of my routine and I want to continue.

3 - Writing lots of junk helped me to come up with a focused character. I thought I was going to have a certain main character when I started the whole thing, but as I was writing tons of stuff, I realized that the main character should be someone who was previously minor. I decided to write it through her eyes (though not in first person), from more of an outsider's perspective, so that I can communicate workplace dysfunction more effectively if she's the one observing and trying to defeat it.

4 - Writing 50,000 words is no big deal. Not if you don't mind writing badly. And as I learned last year, who cares if I write a bunch of junk? It's fun to write and write and let things flow and more concrete ideas will emerge, as opposed to thinking so much and then creating something that you hope will work. Of course, the better option is to plan and write as well as possible instead of writing anything that pops into your head.

5 - Creative writing is more integrated in my life. I used to have a hard time going from the practical real world to the imaginary one, but writing so much has broken that wall, so switching between the two is no big deal. Before, I wouldn't see a reason or be motivated to write because I figured it wouldn't lead to anything anyway. Absolutely no one is waiting for my story, and no one has asked for it; that seems to happen with well-connected people who can tell their successful publishing friends or agents that they're working on something, and those people might say they'd like to look at it once they're done. If I knew people like that, of course I'd be writing day and night to get something done. But since I don't know anyone like that, it's very hard to get going. But because I was writing all the time, I really enjoyed just writing, so it's not about the result at this point but the process. It's just fun to create a bunch of people and stories and take a break from obligations and always doing what others want me to do.

6 - I really don't want to do it again. It's a nice exercise, but I have too much to do. Plus, I realized I have a non-work life that I want to participate in, and I was so busy trying to get the 50k done that it really made my schedule packed, and I felt like there wasn't much breathing room. And I was just very tired. I basically slept for several hours on Thanksgiving because of all I'd done that month, and it's not really worth it at this point. Now all I need to do is really finish a proper book and get a pro to look at it. So if you see pigs flying, that's when it will really be happening.



Author : Margaret Larkin

I have a business, okay?
I've been wanting to write this post for a while, and started it, then stopped, because I don't want to seem too whiny or self-promotional. But I think there has been some misunderstanding from various people offline about what I exactly "do," and I feel like I should explain. This isn't an attempt to be defensive, though sometimes it feels that way because I've experienced judgement from clueless or snotty people, and I'm tired of being silent or self-effacing.

I mentioned over a decade ago that I created a company with the very same name as this blog, though there's an "LLC" after it. I took a business class earlier this year (for credit) and realized that I am a "solopreneur." The book we used (which was multimedia, so it was more than just a book) defined different kinds of businesses, and voila--there was the term that described me. I'm not just a freelancer, though I started that way back in the mid-90s. I am truly running a one-person business, which means a business bank account, taxes (which have gone up for people like me because the new tax laws and write-offs only benefit rich people and rich corporations), paying hundreds of dollars per year to the state and to a registered agent, paying to use an office, and basically trying to get work at various places.

It is not easy working for yourself, and I've done it for several years. When I was in college, many companies were going through corporate restructuring, which meant layoffs and upheaval and greed that was bolstered by changing regulations. I remember I was in an economics class and was very vocal about my worry about changes in the business climate, and someone pretty much yelled at me to not worry, they got a job after college, blah blah. Fast forward, and we know what's happened in the past thirty years.

When I lived and then traveled in Asia, I realized that people don't have to follow the predictable path of college, work, grad school, more work, conformity to a company, etc. There could be many paths, and by the time I got back to the U.S., I decided to freelance. Back then, not many people did that. People made sarcastic, condescending comments such as "I'm sure your resume is 'interesting'," or "maybe one day you'll figure out where you want to work." People seemed perplexed and disgusted that I was choosing a different way. I figured I could use my skills at different places, and while I wasn't making a lot of money, I was building a life that I created and doing work that people needed. I wasn't relying on a company to give me a break; I was making my breaks. I networked, went to grad school, took courses, talked to people, learned on the job, and really gained a lot of skills and insight. I have worked with and for many people in different areas of Chicago and the suburbs, and I've also worked with a diverse array of people as well. I have worked with different ages, economic backgrounds, ethnicities, etc., and I am proud of what I've accomplished.

Because I have a business, I can mix it up. For instance, I currently work for some higher education institutions, a media outlet, a publication, a small company, and even a fitness center. One time I was working the front desk at the fitness place, and someone who had retired from a prominent career, and whose child is working for one of the best companies in the world, saw me, and asked if I was doing okay. They probably thought I had fallen on hard times and "had" to take such a job. No, and that's the point...I can work where I want, as long as it fits in my schedule. Of course, if I want to promote the business, I have to choose what I say and what I emphasize because everything I do can't be neatly summed up in a cute little bow of an elevator pitch.

The mistake I have made over the years is that I haven't told people who've asked what I "do" that I have a business. I've instead just explained what I do, or just vaguely mentioned places I work. I realized the other day that I think it's because I'd faced ignorant mockers early on, and it caused me to be quiet, or to underplay what I've done. But doing your own thing is challenging because we can't wait for someone to favor us; we have to build relationships and trust, make deadlines, and do good work.

In addition to the business, I've also found time to volunteer. I don't do a ton of that type of stuff, but I've done it to balance out my life "portfolio." I also spent many years helping my elderly parents, which wouldn't have been possible if I had a regular 9-to-5 job. So while I was helping them (which is really worth another post), I was able to still get work done for places, to keep the business going.

I started doing several years ago what is pretty common now, but society and the media who salivate over the current generation haven't bothered to pay attention to people like me. Back when I started and for some years after that, it wasn't hard to get freelance or project work. Then the economy and societal norms changed, so that the market has become more flooded. Unfortunately, people are so enamored with folks of a certain age that they skip over people like me. Well I not only have more experience, but I've been getting stuff done for years, and being flexible is no big deal. I deserve credit and recognition, but since it's not automatic or assumed, I've had to motivate myself. And the fact that I'm still around shows that I am able to do it.

Maybe one day I will have a regular full-time job. I haven't had one in more than 25 years. Sometimes I feel like I'm on such a different path that I want to relax into one of structure, surrounded by a baked-in community, because whatever community I have has to be built by me, and is not located in one place but is more like an orbit. When I see people working together in the same place, going out, getting to know each other over the years, working on projects together, I think that one day I might want that. But society has to understand and appreciate what I've done, and people have to open their minds to accept that it's okay to be different, to not be a recent grad, and to respect people like me who not only have been able to work in different situations, but have been able do what's needed, including exercising when a lot of people my age let themselves go. Yes, it is possible to be sharp, creative, and nimble without having to be barely not a teen.

Basically, I'm tired of being quiet about what I do, and going forward, I will talk about my business and my accomplishments. For instance, recently I was selected for a professional development training opportunity. I also got A's in that aforementioned business class and a marketing class, I was already offered a class to teach at a university, and I've done a good enough job at a few places that they want to keep giving me work. These examples don't come from a single institution where I've climbed some kind of job tree, but they are from different areas where I've carved out a productive path, where I've gotten along with people who think I'm smart and capable. And I'm not going to talk it down anymore.
Author : Margaret Larkin

That didn\'t last long
Over the summer, I wrote about how it's harder to write while you're more on the inside than outside, and that's where I was for a bit. I was writing, but it was hard to find that drive, because I was too busy getting stuff done and being a part of groups larger than just myself. Now that the fall is here, I'm back to doing more quiet, solitary work (and I'm not an introvert, nor am I anti-social, as I've said many times before), and I'm not as overloaded as I was over the summer (I was working 50-70 hours a week...exhilarating times for an action-seeker such as moi). While I still work weekends, my schedule is not as packed, so I find myself with more time, which means more writing.

And it's not just about the freed-up time, but the freed-up mind. Because my brain is not wrapped up in deadlines or operating more socially, it has the tendency to collapse upon itself and observe and sense my surroundings in detail, because it's looking to channel the stimulation around me, or if I'm alone, to organize the lack in some way. So I've been writing more often, and I feel like I'm more of an outsider now. And what I mean by that is because of working in different places, not living the typical lifestyle of someone my age, and basically wanting to explore various areas and people and stay curious about life (and not having a single group, as this self-proclaimed outsider describes), it's put me back into more of the role of observer, which is easier to do when you're an outsider.

I was talking to some smart folks recently about how they grew up being different, and they've managed to create a life that's worked out for them. This outsider situation I've encountered didn't start when I was young, as it did for them; it happened in my adult life, and it's something I'm still getting used to. If I were a brilliant storyteller, perhaps I would've put out a bunch of fiction by this point, and while I've attempted to do it through the years, it didn't go anywhere because my fiction has not been worthy of a public audience, and it's just very hard to create. Yet because I probably will never totally shake off my outsider status (which I perceive; I don't know if others do, though some think I'm weird or intense), I've decided to try to channel it into expressing myself via fiction and non-fiction. I've discovered that it's important to find a space to control when things don't seem controllable, or thrilling, or different.

I wish I knew someone who made it work for them, but I just meet people who are trying to make a living, or who are coasting, or who don't deal with this issue at all. Even if I sort of mention it to someone who's on their own path, pretty much asking them how they stay motivated or how's their social life, etc., they don't have much to say. And since the Internet has become more superficial, it's hard to find the kinds of online confessionals that used to exist back in the day.
Author : Margaret Larkin

The school with a run-on
I often walk by an elementary school in the Gold Coast, which is a nice neighborhood with money and education and clean sidewalks and nice dwellings. So it surprises me that they have a run-on sentence etched into its outer walls:


There isn't a period, either, so they probably made a stylistic choice. But why would they tolerate absolutely no punctuation in the midst of a statement about learning? Or I could understand if they at least they had a line break to separate the sentences, but to have nothing at all? It's not even accurate of the original quote, which was a comma splice (which I can't stand, but then again, it was the 18th century, Abigail Adams had no formal education, and a lot of her writing was bizarrely spelled, punctuated, capitalized, and pieced together, though maybe 18th century American English was like that, and the spelling was acceptable back then, and it's changed over the last couple-hundred years; maybe we're wrong, who knows).

This is the original quote, which is from a letter that she wrote:
"Roving is not benificial to study at your age, Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardour and attended to with diligence."

Thus there are a couple things going on in the school's appropriation of Mrs. Adams' quote: they don't use her punctuation, and they don't use her spelling of "ardour" either. We modern Americans use "ardor," and since she was an early Yankee, she was probably still influenced by Britain. So really, in an effort to promote learning, the school might be undermining it by not being accurate; they should have directly copied what she wrote, especially since many of the students will most likely be more involved in academics as they get older.
Author : Margaret Larkin

Better to underestimate and over-deliver than promise something you can\'t do
I almost had this post done, when I decided to delete what I wrote and start over, because it sounded like I was being way too critical of:
1) people who promise to meet you at a certain time and are late, even after promising they'd be there "soon," which sometimes could mean a half hour to a full hour
2) workers who promise to show up within a window of time, then show up after the window has closed, after not even bothering to call, and you have to call the company to find out what's going on, while they apathetically promise that they'll be there "soon"
3) tradesmen who promise they'll show up early, i.e., "you're the first in line, then you can get out of here when we're done," then don't show up until about two hours later, with no explanation or phone call, not even bothering to answer phone calls or emails to verify that they're even coming
4) companies that promise services that will arrive in "less than half an hour" and keep promising mere minutes but show up in three hours
5) shipping companies that promise to deliver a package by a certain day, then lie about not being able to deliver said package, even though there's always someone there to receive it
6) people who say they'll call back "right away," and the call never comes, or comes some days later
I could go on and on and bore people with details of people and companies that promise on-time something, and rarely live up to what they say. It would be much easier and more polite and honest to simply say what they really mean. If people aren't able to be somewhere, promising the impossible doesn't make us feel better; it makes us feel duped and annoyed if we're tight for time. The next time someone promises me something, I'm going to ask them what they really mean. Are they really going to be there in a few minutes, or are they going to be quite late? Are they really going to show up by 2:00, or are they not going to be able to make it because they have a lot of things lined up before me?

The other day, I figured traffic would be bad, so I told someone I might be 15 minutes late. Instead, I was 5 minutes late. I told someone else I'd get something done by the morning. Instead, I got it done that night. It's a lesson I learned from Scotty: better to surprise people by getting something done faster than they expected.


Author : Margaret Larkin

I got a free book but didn\'t like it
I was contacted by a major publisher about a book that I might be interested in reading (and reviewing) because it was language-oriented, and I was excited because I had just finished reading Laura Caldwell's The Night I Got Lucky, which was published back in the mid-aughts. It had been sitting on my shelf for several years, and I wasn't motivated to read it because I was more of a non-fiction type of person, and when I tried to read it, it seemed silly. But I didn't want to get rid of it because I actually met her, we exchanged emails, and she signed the book when I bought it. Now she's a very successful author and everything else, thus I had met her in the very early stages of her fiction-writing career.

After reading some other novels and really enjoying them (though not enjoying one whose movie was way better than the book), I finally picked hers up, and it was fantastic. It was entertaining and thought-provoking, and now I realize that she nailed story-telling and structure very well to the point that I want to do the same (though she now writes on more serious topics and seems to do a lot of stuff that isn't frivolous).

So it was at this point when the publisher contacted me, offering me a book because they thought it would fit with what I write about here and probably do for work (which requires me to apply lots of grammatical and English-language knowledge). I got the book and started reading it immediately. But there really wasn't much of a story, and I couldn't relate to the characters. I found that I didn't even really know the characters, and nothing was prompting me to keep turning the pages other than to find out if the first few pages would be answered (which they weren't for like a hundred pages later, where I wanted to give up anyway). The book seemed to glide over life instead of getting inside the characters' heads and hearts and letting us know what their struggles were. It skimmed the surface and seemed pleased with itself instead of turning outward towards us to pull us into the world where they had to deal with various trials, and clever phrases were uttered instead of genuine dialog. I seriously didn't understand why the book got such great reviews, and how the author got such a book published after having some best-sellers.

Was I missing something? I went online and found some reviews with thoughts similar to my own, then noticed that a number of people got free books through Netgalley or by being active on Goodreads or just being popular book bloggers. What's great is that some of the reviewers who got the book for free gave an honest review, even saying that they didn't finish it because it wasn't good enough to waste any more time. Others liked it, but weren't really specific. But other than those digital reviewers (and I have no problem with publishers contacting them or going through Netgalley or other sites to get exposure), I noticed that a lot of established, successful authors gave glowing reviews as well, which made me wonder if they were friends with the author or people in the publishing house or whoever was connected with the author/book/company/whatever.

Then I wondered if I should just say nothing online about the book, because the publisher had taken the time and money to send it to me, and they "deserved" a good review, and if I wasn't going to give one, I should remain silent. But then that's dishonest advertising, and would mean that they're essentially paying for positive publicity by giving us something for free. And there was nothing in their emails or snail-mail that suggested I should do that. They were totally ethical and just wanted to find a niche outlet that fit their book. I looked at discussions online, and found a blog post that said people should be honest in their reviews. Since I am not a dedicated book blogger like those other folks are, I really don't have to deal with this issue often, and if I don't like a book, I do a quick negative rating on Bookdigits and move on.

So I decided to write about my experience rather than the book itself, and if they ask me via email what I think, I'll be honest and say I didn't like it. Maybe if I were writing publicly I would be more diplomatic, but I just did not want to spend any more time with the book. And while I appreciate them reaching out to me, it doesn't guarantee a positive review. I'll just rate it at Bookdigits and move on to better books.
Author : Margaret Larkin

I hate self-serving posts that are cheap teases for nothing
Sometimes I see someone's interesting blog post on LinkedIn or wherever (I don't know if LinkedIn would want them called "blog posts" at this point; I think they're called stories or updates or whatever), and I'll read along, thinking I'm going to get some good advice, and they'll end up being self-serving promotional pieces. Like (and I'm totally making this up, but it reflects the kind of stuff I've read) "and if you really want to maximize your personal branding, it's important to get a professional to help. We have many services that will get you on the right track." I was going to link to an actual "post" or "story" or whatever the professional was broadcasting, but I thought it would be rude, plus it would only give them more exposure, when what they were doing was deceptive and sort of manipulative.

I remember the days (and other people do too) when the Internet was more sincere. People shared their ideas online and were more authentic. Of course, there were people who created clickbait and who wanted to promote themselves, which is fine, but now it's harder to find posts that are just enjoyable writing. I'm not saying there are no posts like that out there, and I'd say that in addition to the relatively few expressive non-self-serving bloggers who share themselves online more than the stylized snaps that have come to dominate the Web, LifeHack seems to be a commercial site that probably makes the founder lots of money, but contains writing that sounds human instead of a way to capture people with hollow content.

I know that lots of people got the memo that they should be into personal branding, which includes a website, social media, and a blog (though for some reason people are saying they don't really "matter" anymore, even though people like to read good writing and don't always want to look at just 100 words or pretty pictures), and I totally agree that personal branding is important. In fact, I'm in the midst of wondering what I should be doing because my online and offline life have changed, my goals are changing, and I really don't know how I'm going to present myself at this point. I'm pitifully scattered and really should be focusing more, but that doesn't mean I'm going to write advice columns that end up with the punchline that you should hire me for something, when you'll really find out the "secrets" to success or whatever.

If people promise advice or information in their title and their SEO-oriented subhead or topic sentence, then they should deliver it, free of pulling people into their agenda. Their writing should help people so that they walk away with life-enhancing content, not a sinking feeling that they'd been had.
Author : Margaret Larkin

I had the best day at work yesterday
Initially, I wrote about this in my Keel's Simple Diary, but I felt like I needed to elaborate publicly, though waited a day to see if it was wise to do so (i.e., if I should get personal in the online world of carefully curated text and images).

But when I woke up, I still had the feeling that I had the best day at work, and I feel like I should publicly record such an event, though I can't be specific because the people involved have no idea that I'm writing this post.

First of all, I had to wake up way before dawn, so you'd think the odds would be stacked against me because I got only a few hours of sleep. When I walked in, I saw someone I'd known for a while, and talked about our podcasting efforts. They're very successful at it and make money, and I've lost steam due to having interviewed lots of people and wanting to do more stuff in other realms. But what I've noticed is that when you talk about your struggles and dreams with someone, it helps solidify your goals. I'm still working on setting new goals, but at least I had someone to talk to along the way.

Then I got down to work, and the boss of the day was super-chill and very kind when certain things weren't lined up as they should have been. The atmosphere in the room was very relaxed, which matches what a Saturday morning should be. I thought that would be the extent of the experience: the understanding, motivated podcaster, and the relaxed boss. But then I was able to talk to someone else I hadn't seen in a while about work-oriented issues elsewhere, and my worry about those issues was minimized. And later we talked about writing, editing, and how they got published, and I felt some of my questions were answered, though I still wonder how I can get my own act together to transfer the ideas of my fake blog into a developed story.

While I continued doing my work, I saw a story about research that reveals that a certain percentage of people cry at work. I admitted to the few folks who were there that I had cried in my work life, and then saw someone who used to work at a place where such crying took place (though that's not only place, thus why I read the excellent Asshole Survival Guide). We talked about stuff at that toxic place that I hadn't known about before, and I said that if I'd known they were going through all that, I wouldn't have felt so horrible or paranoid there, and I wouldn't have felt so alone in my struggles. What I've learned throughout the years of working in toxic situations, in addition to having to get out of there ASAP, is to talk to other people to avoid feeling alone and isolated, because in the past, I have felt that way. The person told me stuff that a lot of people around town don't know about, and it wasn't about gossiping but revelation, because I really had no idea they had experienced all that. I thought they were in the preferred group while I was struggling towards the bottom.

As daylight was clearly established and the hours were winding down, a cool coworker showed up, and they did their work while I did mine, which is refreshing because it's super-annoying when you're working on a team where some people are either lazy or not detail-oriented. We talked about random stuff while they let me get some work done that was due, and then I went home to take a long nap.

In addition to simply liking the work I did, I was working in an atmosphere that was what a workplace should be: not stressful, trustworthy and talented people, positivity, learning opportunities, insight, emotional safety, and freedom.

I've worked in various situations, and while I've gone home thinking I had a good day, got lots done, and had no dysfunctional incidents, I've still had to be on guard, shut my mouth, stay within my lane (because I'm not at the top of the hierarchy of personality), and be on my best behavior, essentially suppressing my personality to survive conformity. There are workplace-cultural rules that people should not speak out of turn, should not show exuberance, and should only work within relevance. Yesterday's experience defied all that and we all survived well, and still produced results. I dared to speak to others who were more successful and they didn't diss or deride me for it, and I felt like I had fun and connected with others, which is rare in the robotic world that the anti-social aggressors have established. There are more days like that, which I'll write about in the future, because they have to be publicly acknowledged so that we can work against the coldness of efficiency.
Author : Margaret Larkin

My favorite TV show is Japanese
A long time ago, when I was still listed on Languagehat's blog list, someone complained that this blog wasn't totally language-oriented, especially because I would write about TV. What I should have said is that I was still working at home doing language-oriented work such as editing, writing, proofreading, and translating, and I would watch TV as a diversion or put it on in the background. I spent many days working at home, and the silence would sometimes cause more loneliness, so the TV and radio and Internet media were on to create some kind of companionship (when people say they want to work at home, I don't think they understand how isolating it can feel...I did it for years and still do it every week).

Now that I spend more time working outside my home (which I'm very happy about...I never want to work at home all the time ever again), I still watch TV, but I watch at the end of the day or very early in the morning. I have become a fan of NHK World, which has some boring shows, but has some interesting ones as well. What helps is that they don't dub all their shows, so if I want to listen to Japanese (since I rarely see Japanese people in Chicago), I can watch the Japanese video and read the subtitles if I don't understand (which is often). NHK is really a promotional outlet for Japan, and their positive images make me want to go there again. It's probably the best place to travel in Asia, and I would like to travel the entire country by train.

Recently, I have become hooked on an excellent show called Document 72 Hours. The NHK crew goes to a single location and films people over a 72-hour period, and people tell their revealing stories. It is so interesting and a slice of real life...it's truly reality TV. When I'm watching, I don't want it to end because so much more could be discovered, but they only have 25 minutes to work with. I'm surprised there's nothing like it in the US. Having such a show even just in Chicago would be fascinating and entertaining, and there are so many places to go, the crew would get a lot of content. Even just doing an audio series would be interesting...I wonder if anyone has done it. I'm just thinking out loud here, but maybe someone would want to pursue it...I can help out :D


Author : Margaret Larkin

If you work with jerks, read this book!
I read the excellent book The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt a while ago, but I was so afraid of being too emotional about it, that I waited to do a post about it because I thought I'd come off as sounding whiny or pitiful. But it was important for me to do this post because I've told some people about it offline, and I want to let as many people know about it as possible.

If you've experienced toxic work environments, mean people, or workplace cruelty, then you'll know how it can make you feel. Maybe you're in such a situation now, but you don't realize it because you're rationalizing the situation, thinking it will get better. It won't, unless those people leave. Or maybe you're becoming one of those people, the result of what one of Bob Sutton's readers calls an "a$ factory." Whether you're suffering or are working in a healthy environment, you should read this book. It will change your perspective and cause you to proceed differently from now on.

This book has really helped me, and after reading it, I was angry at myself for staying in at least a couple toxic environments for too long, and tolerating an abuser in another mildly toxic place. The book talks about the signs of a screwed-up establishment, and I stupidly went ahead and worked there anyway, ignoring the obvious. Then I suffered and felt horrible, and basically internalized the mud that was thrown at me. So that's what I thought about as I was reading this book: how could I let that happen, how could I end up hating myself, why didn't I leave ASAP when things quickly got worse. After a few weeks, I forgave myself and vowed to never be a victim again.

Even if you feel like you've established an a-hole-free lifestyle, it's not always easy to avoid people who make you feel bad. Actually, I shouldn't say it like that, because people shouldn't be *making* you feel a certain way, but as Sutton quotes someone else, "at the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel."

When someone is cruel or obnoxious or says insulting things in your non-work life, it's not hard to cut them out or to greatly minimize interaction. You can simply choose to not socialize with them, or decrease interactions at family functions, obligatory events, etc. But when you're stuck with such people at work, you can't just quit (though Sutton says to get out of a toxic environment ASAP, which I hesitated to do a few times...but I've learned that lesson now!). So this book gives concrete advice, other than what the lame articles online say, such as "meet with your manager," or "write a flowery email," or negotiate somehow. Many people aren't in such structured situations, and sometimes the workplace is too small to be able to do something constructive. What Sutton does is offer many examples of what a-holes are, if they're just temporary or certified, and even ways to recognize how you're choosing to ignore the signs and are rationalizing the toxicity away.

And most importantly, he offers strategies for dealing with the jerks. Most people would probably create their own mix, but he breaks it down, in addition to offering the general "Don't engage with crazy":

  • create distance
  • limit exposure
  • slow interaction and responses via email, etc. 
  • be bland and a chameleon, basically seen but not noticed (this is especially hard for people like me who like to express our personalities and talk, but amazingly, I've been so successful at it, people think I'm an introvert, which I'm not...such acting skills are worth another post actually)
  • find a safe space
  • find humor in the situation
  • focus on the positive
  • think about your goals
  • distance yourself from the situation, even into the future
  • it's them, not you
  • detach (which I've successfully done, though I felt like I was turning cold)
  • reframe 

There's also other advice, but it really depends on who you work with; for instance, maybe there are people who can be "shields" or others who you can team up with. I wish someone out there would write more about when you're either physically alone in a job, or very isolated, or one of the few (or only) who is experiencing hardship. One thing I learned was that we're not alone in our suffering. Even if you're not around other people, or seem to be suffering alone, all you have to do is read this book to see how many examples of a-holes there are in various industries. Another thing I've done is simply talk to people about their trials. But overall, if you've worked or are working in a place that is so polluted you can barely breathe, get out! Well, first get another job or get rich, then leave! That's his basic advice.

I barely scratched the surface, and I would love to go into detail of my negative experiences and how they messed me up and how I found tiny triumphs, but I obviously can't do that. I guess the only way I'd be able to write about my work experiences is if I became super-wealthy and essentially didn't need the approval of others anymore. Anyway, here's a video of the excellent author giving the basic concepts of dealing with jerks. THANKS BOB SUTTON!


Author : Margaret Larkin

Working alone is a luxury
When I started this blog, I was working alone a lot at home, and I really started to hate it. I couldn't find many people online who were struggling with it, probably because not a lot of people were doing it, or they were doing it but weren't complaining about it online. Eventually I found one person who complained about it, but by that time I'd been toiling in obscurity for a while. Now there are lots of articles online about it, so I'm thinking that I was initially an outlier, then societal trends and the changing economy kicked in, and voila...something I'd been doing since the dawn of the Internet became a regular thing (which is why I eventually experienced a drought a few years ago...unexpected competition).

So after dealing with working at home and working in isolating introverted situations, I managed to find more extroverted situations to offset the introverted ones. And it was worth it! I now experience both, which is fine with me, because I still have nerdy pursuits, but I can also be in more social, team-oriented workplaces. Great! I was going to drop the introverted-type of stuff, but I like the stability and like maintaining a serial-comma world, where commas make sense and are used properly (which I've never posted about, but I will eventually).

So as I was chugging along, ready to do the home work, something awful happened: my fancy Apple Desktop, which has enough power to process audio, video, text, graphics, etc., and make everything run and look optimal, crashed to the point that I think it has died. The graphics card is creating stripes and whiteness of death, and I cannot use it. This happened just when I was having to create a new podcast, plus proofread some substantial scientific papers, plus do online homework at a multimedia site, plus do other stuff that can only be done on a RAM-filled, fully loaded iMac. I was already behind, so I decided to go to the public library to use their computer to get some time-sensitive work done.

Wow, what we take for granted. First of all, I had to wait for a computer. When I was able to start working, people were making noise around me, including a guy who was ranting to himself and other people, and another guy who was listening to loud music. I politely asked the music guy to lower it, and he amazingly complied. The timer was set, because the library lets people use the computers for a predetermined amount of time. Also, the MS Word wasn't behaving as I'm used to because the mouse would select more text than I wanted, and I had to make sure my marks and comments were accurate.

I had reached the finish line and was about to upload the document to a cloud drive, plus send it as an attachment to someone, when a fire alarm went off. I looked at the person next to me to see if we should do anything, and he didn't move. So I didn't either. Then people started telling us to leave right away because we were having a fire drill. I had to leave my windows open and hoped that the remaining time wouldn't elapse, because my files would be wiped; the alarm had gone off before I had a chance to send them or store them anywhere. So I went outside and waited and hoped that all the work I put into the document wouldn't be for naught.

When they gave us permission to enter the library again, I ran upstairs to the computer and finished the saving-sending process. I had some minutes left, and I made them matter. I was worried that someone would use my computer or I'd be locked out.

Then it struck me that I'd been taking my solitary pursuits for granted. I had my nice desktop, have a basic Chromebook (thus can't do anything with Word), but I still have something. Other people don't have such luxuries; they have to use computers in public places, wait for permission, ask for help, listen to people talking or loud noises while they do what they want. They have to put up with fire alarms or other distractions which break up their day. They can't decide to work in silence in their own space; they have to share it. I have had the choice of working in a workplace, in a coworking space, in a garden, on a balcony, in my home...wherever I want pretty much, unless I need the powerful desktop computer (which is still dead at this moment and must be replaced with another expensive computer).

So I'd like to proclaim that while I am not a fan of solitary work, which I've been doing for years, at least I have the luxury of being alone. I'm not at the mercy of a public institution, though I'm very glad we have that option. Libraries are great places to get things done, so I thank our culture for including them in its priorities.
Author : Margaret Larkin

It\'s harder to write when you\'re busy belonging
I often do searches to find answers or information about how I'm feeling or issues that I'm interested in, and one day I came upon a thread in Quora, the topic of which I forgot at this point. But one of the posters made a good comment: "I feel like someone has to be the outsider to be the narrator of society."

Being an outsider makes it a lot easier to write, creating a way to process what's going on and what we see, especially if we're not getting what we want from the world. I reckon visual artists do this as well; they experience life and shape it into colors and forms, thus they've found their space to create a place just for them, and for others to experience what they have.

Sharing is important when we can't in "real life." We are on the edge, on the outside looking in, and we can't stay silent; we have to find a way to bridge what we're taking in and what we want to express. For long stretches of time, I felt like an outsider, even though I didn't want to be. And when I wasn't officially in that position, I'd formed such a habit of observation and creating an alternative commentary and streams of thought in my mind that I'd have to take the time to write it out, or create some other reality where I could be someone else who's fully participating in a life that is very different from mine.

Recently I've been working in non-introverted, enjoyable situations, that I've felt more like a participant to the point that I haven't had the time or psych to observe and feel the need to express myself on that alternative path. The main issue is living life instead of just existing and getting through the days. Of course, if we're alive, we're living life. But a lot of people are just working or getting stuff done, and they don't feel connected or alive until they're doing something they enjoy. Otherwise, they're being disciplined to get through what they have to, then finding a way to release themselves from the chores. But doing something that's enjoyable, plus working and socializing with people we should be with, makes the disciplined striving less necessary. The struggle is within a pleasant, desirable orbit instead of a construct of what should be.

I definitely believe in positive thinking, though not the kind where people claim that if you think it, what you want will happen. Positive thinking is being positive in spite of a challenging situation. You might want something, and being positive about your desires might lead you down some interesting and fruitful paths, but you might fail. So the positivity comes despite the failure. It's there before and after. It's finding alternatives when the main choice isn't possible. But when it does happens, sparks fly, you're in the zone, you're on your way. And that's when the sense of belonging begins, and the need to ace observation and successfully channel it is decreased.

Maybe that's why creative people often perceive a struggle, even when things might be improving in their external world. The struggle creates the friction that leads to a need to soothe it, but on the person's terms, not based on what the world might offer.
Author : Margaret Larkin

Not writing has made me feel very irritated
I have been working a lot and have used my downtime to read books, go to the gym, go to Mitsuwa (where I went today), play tennis, socialize, and just lie around like a blob because I can't afford to get sick (I work for myself via my own decade-old business, so no sick days or paid vacation or personal days or anything like the rest of the working world has). During last week and weekend, I'd get an idea to write down in my journal, here at this blog, or in my fake blog, and I wouldn't write, just continue on the treadmill of work/rest life, and tell myself that I'd do it when I "had time." I technically had time, but I just wouldn't take out my computer or paper-book journal, and I figured it didn't matter. But by Saturday night I was getting very irritated, and by Monday I felt like I was having an emotional meltdown. I had been doing what I had to, but I did not carve out time to create anything, and it really was wearing me down and making me nervous. So yesterday when I had a tiny slice of non-work and non-workout time, I wrote something in my fake blog real quick, and it took the edge off but not totally. So I wrote again this morning before work, and I'm in the process now of writing more. Basically, I need to write something that is not work-related, just creative, within my control. Not evaluated, just put out there. If the internet was how it used to be (I have a lot to say about the good ol' days), more people would be reading what I create here, but I guess that ship has sailed on the social media/pictograph sea.

I've written about the need to create, to control something when life is out of control (not in a dysfunctional way but when decisions are in other people's hands and you have to produce and perform for them), but I need to follow my own advice. I've become a habitual observer, walking down the street seeing people and scenarios that make interesting stories in my head, but I don't put them down anywhere, which makes my head fill up and cause a bottleneck that has to be smoothed out.

Writing isn't the only answer; I can also express via audio and video, but writing is the fastest way and only requires simple tools and a simple process: typing on a computer or writing on a piece of paper with a pen. Also, I often want to process my observations via words, and I can do it via fiction or via straight reporting, though doing it honestly via Twitter or here would get me in trouble. If I were rich and didn't need anyone's approval, I would really post what I think of what I see, but I don't have that luxury (and not many people do).
Author : Margaret Larkin

It\'s ensure, not assure
In my copy editing/proofreading gigs, and even in other jobs that don't primarily focus on text, people often use "assure" when they really should use "ensure." For instance, I've seen people mistakenly write "They used that instrument to assure they would be accurate." That is not correct because "assure" means, according to the Cambridge dictionary, to "promise" or "make certain" or "say with certainty...that something is true," as in "I assure you that you will get the job" or "The mayor assured the people that corruption will be investigated during her administration." Basically, it's a way to let other people know that they shouldn't worry about something. I assure you that what I'm writing is true.

"Ensure" simply means to make sure of something. So you ensure that you have your bus pass. You ensure that all the doors are locked. You ensure that you've done all the necessary paperwork. Basically, when you're thinking "I want to make sure," use "ensure."

Here's a visual: the name of the drink Ensure implies that you want to make sure, i.e., ensure, that you get all the nutrients you need.


Author : Margaret Larkin

the Sun or the sun?
I was proofreading something that referred to "the Sun," but I wasn't sure if it should be capitalized. My hunch was that it shouldn't be, but when I did a search online, I found conflicting results. For instance, NASA capitalizes it in a student worksheet, but they could be doing that for stylistic purposes. Meanwhile, The Atlantic, which seems to take language and writing seriously, does not capitalize it.

After seeing various examples online, I assumed it's standard practice to not capitalize it, until I saw a discussion on Quora, with an answer by a highly educated science person: "The International Astronomical Union rules in this context, and they say that the names of each planet, each planetary satellite, each asteroid, each comet, each star, each stellar/planetary system, and each galaxy is a proper name and, therefore, a proper noun to be capitalized." Then he says that not capitalizing it is fiction-oriented. But the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, aka MIT, one of the most prestigious science and technical institutions on the planet, instructs people to not capitalize it. And the MLA style guide (by the well-known Modern Language Association) makes the same conclusion.

So I'm assuming it should not be capitalized, thus I corrected what the author wrote. Now that I'm writing about it, it doesn't seem like a big deal, but when I saw it, it made me think about it for the first time, since I don't usually have to deal with the issue. I even discussed it with a professional writer, who didn't really know the answer either, which made me even more curious and concerned about doing the right thing.
Author : Margaret Larkin

The friendly French guy
I took a couple of French classes online, and while I didn't ace the second class (probably because I was working a lot, plus successfully finishing Nanowrimo), I really enjoyed studying it. There was a ton of grammar and vocabulary to learn, and there were lots of activities and quizzes and the awful final, which I bombed, even though I studied more than a few days for it. I was very upset about it, and still am, but at least I can still see the Friendly French Guy for a few more days (because even though I paid 100 bucks for the digital book, it has an expiration date, which I think is totally unfair).


In every chapter, he lectured about grammar, and seemed very happy to be sharing his knowledge. He had a French accent, of course, and was always upbeat.


I wish the publisher would let the French-challenged, such as moi, continue to access the site, so that we can continue to be entertained and tutored by Mr Friendly French Guy, who will become just a memory eventually :( I will miss him. Goodbye, Friendly French Guy :(


Author : Margaret Larkin

Still fake blogging
It looks like I haven't been a productive writer because almost two months have passed since the last post, but I have been writing, just not here. I mentioned before that I have a fake blog, and I've even told people offline, but no one has read it. I don't even know if strangers have stumbled upon it because I can't see any stats. But even though I don't know if I have an audience, I've become pretty obsessed with it and post there once to a few times a week. And when I'm not writing, I'm thinking about it, like what would the person be doing now, how is the person feeling, etc. I listen to people talk or they tell me what they've been doing, and the conversations give me ideas about what to write. I never thought I'd be so into writing fiction because I'm not a fiction-type of person, but it's sort of taken over my mind at times.

There are not many personal blogs out there anymore because people are posting their lives on social media, and blogs have become more informational than a form of journaling, which makes my pursuit seem anachronistic. Social media is fine, but it's not as deep as journal-type blogs were, and I miss that aspect of the internet. Online expression is more superficial and utilitarian now, and greed has taken over certain segments of the internet to the point where it's hard to find more authentic voices.

I do more practical posts at my podcast-related blog and post here, of course, but what I like about the fake blog is that I can do something personal in someone else's voice, and it's very satisfying and fun. I also have a way to channel my thoughts in an alternative world, which is very different from my real life. It's a way to offset rut-related feelings by imagining "What if..." to create a different path to explore.

If I were a gifted fiction writer and disciplined and driven about it, I'd try to write a book from my bloggy sketches, but right now, I just enjoy blogging. I don't know if other people feel the same way as I do, but I think the online writing world is not as interesting because long forms of expression exist in a different way, and have been replaced by short bursts of self-celebration. I sort of wish we could go back to the "good 'ol days" of the internet before the mercenaries took over, and I wonder if written creativity will continue to thrive for those who still want to bypass the professional gatekeepers.
Author : Margaret Larkin

I already have exposure

I have met people who fancied themselves as business people (meaning they're pretty much failing at it or are inept or are too cheap to pay anyone) who wanted me to produce content for free, telling me I'd get "exposure." For instance, one person who was building their digital identity after their broadcasting one was fizzling told me about a website they were either creating or had already created (they were vague), and they wanted people to write for their blog. I asked them how much they're paying the writers, and they said "oh nothing, you can get exposure." Obviously, the person hadn't done their research or assumed I was new to the digital world because I had already been blogging for years, and had even gotten paid for doing blog posts for other people or had gotten paid for editing them. By the time the has-been mediaite had met me, I had already experienced professional writing, and at that point was picky about who I'd write for, for free.

Another time, a person who was working for a company asked me to not only write something, but go out into the community, interview people, record the interviews, edit and make them sound pretty, post them somewhere, and they would be broadcast, again vaguely somewhere at some time. I asked how much they were paying for such a project that sounded like it would be both time-consuming and energy-expending, and they said that I would have to find the advertisers, and besides, I would get "exposure."

In both those instances, the people asked me; I didn't approach them, so I assumed since they asked me, they would have something to offer more that just "exposure." They didn't even bother to offer a gift card or another kind of perk. While the has-been was an individual, the other person worked for a business that had been set up by someone else, and even they didn't have the money to pay for a service that they requested.

I have had exposure for years, which I built up. Some of it has been through work, so I happened to get paid for it. Other exposure has not been for work, but has led to paid work. That's what exposure does: it gets your name out there so that people can do an online search and find out what you're able to do. But after a while, it's not as necessary, unless you have a goal in mind.

For instance, once I started teaching others about podcasting (and after I'd gotten exposure for my own podcast), I wanted to write about it. So I contacted a publicity pro whose excellent website, The Publicity Hound, did not have such information. It took a while, but I was able to write a two-part article about it. More recently, I wrote another how-to podcasting article after contacting the International Association of Business Communicators, whose website didn't have anything about it either. I didn't get paid to write those, but the difference was that I contacted them and knew they were a chance to get exposure. It was my goal, and I took action to achieve it.

But I also wrote a couple articles for free after someone asked me. In that case, I had been wanting to write about my experience doing technical editing, since I'd been toiling at that alone in obscurity, and I wanted to communicate with the larger world about it (since I'm not a solitary-loving introvert). I was at a meeting of the Society for Technical Communication, and the newsletter editor, Robert Delwood, was talking to me about my experience. Then he asked me to write articles for the newsletter, and since no one gets paid to write for it and it's an organization (not a business), I didn't make such an assumption. And he didn't have to say "you'll get exposure" either. It was just a request for a contribution. What resulted was a description of my struggle, and another about the importance of grammar.

Ok, so it might seem like I'm self-promoting, which I sort of am, but I'm also making a point: if people want something substantial done and especially can afford it, they should pay. They shouldn't make the "exposure" argument unless someone suggests it, e.g., if someone says to them, "I have no online presence. Can I write something for you? I need the exposure." But for a business person to try convince someone to give them free content via the "exposure" argument is not good business.




Author : Margaret Larkin

Wanting to know lots of languages has diluted my ability to get better
I have a problem that a lot of people don't face because they're usually focused on one thing or just a few things, or they're boring and don't do much other than what they need to. My problem is language-oriented, which is apt for this blog, since the theme is supposed to be language, and is the reason why it was created (though I ended up writing about other topics, which caused me to get dropped from lists and publicly questioned, though this was before social media exploded).

My problem is that I want to understand everything I read or see, and I can't. For instance, I started studying Swedish after I saw shows and movies and listened to lots of happy, shallow Swedish dance music that was created for the world stage. I wanted to find out more about the artists and actors, so I searched online for information. The best was in Swedish, so I attempted to study it, and barely succeeded. I cannot converse and barely understand anyone. It's frustrating. Then I tried reading Swedish sites, learned tips, etc., but I barely made any progress.

I also love French and really just want to read anything in it and try to understand some shows, such as Maigret. I'm such a fan of Bruno Cre?mer that I ordered his memoir, Un Certain Jeune Homme, from the UK, and when I got it, I could barely understand it. So I put it to the side and after I took an online French course and learned about the imparfait tense, I could understand it better. But what about the news in French, and websites, and videos, and more? I still have trouble.

And then there's Spanish. I studied that a while ago and have been teaching mostly Spanish speakers English for several years, and while I don't need the language to teach, I'd like to understand what they're saying to each other. And I teach in an area where there are many Spanish-speaking stores, so I could easily practice it there. I also see Spanish speakers all around Chicago and would like to get involved. But that's a lot to learn to be able to converse.

Then there's Japanese, which is probably my "best" language, though it is very difficult to read and I still don't understand everything I see on TV, so I try to practice reading and listening often, though don't know enough to ace it.

And there's German and Portuguese and Italian, all which I've studied and was intense about, but nothing enough to put me in the "capable" category.

So I've been overwhelmed by opportunities and interest to learn those languages but am not brilliant enough, nor do I have a photogenic memory to remember all the vocabulary and grammar and meaning of it all. My mind is struggling between desire to do it all and frustration because I'm not a super-language-human. I've met some people who know a few languages, and obviously I'm envious that they have that ability. What's odd is that people think I'm good at language, but I think it's because they haven't attempted to learn anything, other than what was required in school.

Then an ESL student told the class about a video she saw about learning languages (pasted below).



Chris Lonsdale says people can learn any language in six months. He said he learned Mandarin that way, and at first I was skeptical, but I saw a video of him giving advice to Chinese people about learning a language, and he sounds fluent to me! He even has slides in Chinese!



He seems so confident and effectively communicative. Even though I have to watch his video again to really learn the concepts (though I briefly wrote some down), one thing I realized is that I have to think about *why* I want to learn those languages, and zero in on that aspect, because I will never be totally fluent and capable in any language, other than English. He says that it's important to make language learning relevant, and since I'm not planning on living abroad again, I don't need those languages for survival, so that's not my motivation. In order to make a language relevant to me and to thus have motivation, I need to make it relate to my personal goals.

I hadn't thought about my language goals. I just wanted to somehow absorb it and proceed like a blob and have a kind of download into my brain. That is not possible, unless I'm a Borg or some character in a sci-fi movie. I can't approach language learning like a blob and assume I'll learn through osmosis or mere exposure. I need to figure out why I'm doing it.

Right now, here are some vague goals, which need to be refined and pursued more intensely:

Swedish: I want to read about the actors and singers in Swedish. And I want to go to Sweden, though they speak English and there's not a lot of pressure to be perfect. Spanish: I want to talk with people in Chicago. French: I want to be able to read the book I bought. And I want to go to France, where I'll have to be able to use it. Portuguese: I want to be able to read about Brazil. I've been there before and did okay, but I've forgotten it all.

Japanese and German are more general, because I want to be able to know them well enough to use them in those countries. So if I narrow down my goal, I want to learn them well enough to be able to talk with people and function on a trip there.

Maybe I'll feel more motivated as I define my goals more. I would much rather be super-smart and dive right in, understanding everything to be able to fully function in all kinds of languages, but that's impossible.

Author : Margaret Larkin

People who have high-level jobs should be able to write
I recently got a shocking email: it was actually well-written, had no grammatical errors, and seemed literate, as the person chose to write complex sentences that utilized correct punctuation as well. This is not an isolated incident, because I've gotten emails over the years from various high-level people who know how to write, or who have the resources to check their writing. But the recent email stood out because before that, people at the same workplace who are supposedly well-educated (they have the degrees to claim authority) would consistently send out emails full of run-ons, comma splices, incorrect verb use, and other issues that resembled emails from people who either lack formal education or are just learning how to write. To verify my opinion and to avoid being considered as too judgmental or insensitive, I showed a professional writer one such email from a highly paid, highly placed individual, and the pro agreed: the email was poorly written and lacked the essentials that anyone who's legitimately gone through high school should know.

A while ago, I worked for someone who was very smart and highly educated, but because English was not their first language, they had some issues with their writing. But they did the right thing: they made sure their writing was checked before being sent out, which I'm guessing helped them to keep their high-level job for several years, make good money, and even get a promotion. It probably also helped their reputation because other people could see that not only did they have the degrees, but they could professionally express themself (not a word, but I don't want to be specific about gender or other info) in a way that matched their prominent job.

If people have the money, they should hire people to fix their writing, even simple emails, even if it's in a ghost-writing capacity. And if people are working in education, they should definitely be able to write. It is ridiculous that students are told to attain skills, but the supervisors of those institutions cannot create coherent sentences. And it's especially appalling when administrators are hired who don't have the sense or capacity to communicate correctly.

In some institutions, high-level employees may be super-strong in science and engineering but weak in the written word. They bring in millions of dollars and lead development of innovative products. Their weak writing shouldn't bar them from such opportunities, but they should make sure they get help.

And I'm not talking about typos. Sometimes we spell something wrong or add an extra comma where there shouldn't be one. Those are minor, human mistakes. What I'm talking about is obvious literary negligence that belies a person's high rank, and the person doesn't care enough to recognize the deficiency or is too cheap or arrogant to get someone to help.
Author : Margaret Larkin

For the first time in several years, I\'ve had a good holiday season
I saw a great article about the #joinin community, which is when people share their struggles on Twitter during Christmas. I was going to post my thoughts on Twitter with that hashtag, but I realized it would've been too long, and I didn't do one of those serial tweets because I doubt people would follow along. So here I am, about to post something that I've told some folks offline, but want to tell people about online as well.

For many years, and I mean more than a decade (though I'm not sure exactly how many years, but long enough to make 2018 a notable year, and hopefully a departure from what I've experienced before), the holidays were awful or barely tolerable. Not just one or two holidays, but various ones throughout the year, including a big birthday I celebrated that was nothing like I'd envisioned back when I witnessed others celebrate theirs exuberantly. There are many reasons why the holidays were not stellar or what I'd experienced earlier in my life, and if I know you offline, I'll tell you. I'm not sure I want to share all the details here because it might be too personal, and the Internet has a lot more creeps online than years ago when I started (which is going to be the topic of another post).

Holidays were strained or sad, or I had to work at jobs that barely acknowledged us, at companies that were too broke to even pay extra (though they liked rewarding their executives and laying people off in the process). Even if holidays were not lonely, I detached myself from them and barely tolerated attending gatherings or didn't do anything special at all. I assumed that was how it was going to be, thus I'd have to adjust to the situation.

But things started changing in late 2017. I noticed I had more opportunities to celebrate the holiday season, but I was still in my detached phase, assuming the spike was an aberration. But this year, not only did those events recur, but I was invited to others as well. So when the season began, I welcomed it and just enjoyed what I saw as a bounty of invites that flowed in. And it's not necessarily that I had the actual holidays free, because I've had to work all of them, including the days around them. My work situation is not like other people where we get paid holidays off or where the places are closed (though some places I work are closed), and working the holidays isn't actually a disappointment like it is for other people.

A lot of people would think this occurrence is no big deal because they already have built-in family obligations that are pleasant, and/or already know a lot of social people who are used to reaching out during the season. I have met several people who have never known an unpleasant or disappointing holiday or birthday because they have events to go to or a large enough family to absorb them. Or if they're not close to family, they have a web of friends who they see. So they're probably wondering why someone would celebrate a positive holiday season and note it online.

But having a more positive holiday experience is very meaningful, and it's also proof that just because you might be struggling around this time of year, every year, it doesn't mean it will last forever. Or if you've lost such positivity over the years, as I did, it doesn't mean it's gone forever. It might take years, as it did for me, or you might be lucky...you might experience a temporary setback that is remedied with a move or with other changes in your life that result in a more upward trend. Amazingly, even though we're between two years as I post this, my active season probably won't end until early February. And then I can truly look forward to more good things happening in 2019.
Author : Margaret Larkin

Spam conversation
A while ago (not too long ago but long enough that I don't remember the exact date...maybe a few months ago), I was at an event (I remember where but don't want to be specific in case the person sees this and knows it's them...because it definitely is) and was talking to someone who seemed interesting. They had come to the event alone and I was surprised that they were so talkative, because usually people seem more shy when they go to something alone. Maybe they spoke more to me because I was volunteering and was in a more central location, which meant that people could easily walk up and ask where the restroom was or just chat a bit before they moved on. But this person really took the time to talk, and since I like talking to people (because I'm merely a fake introvert), I went along. We talked about the suburb they live in and other things that I can't remember.

And it's not unintentional that I pretty much wiped the specifics of the conversation from my mind, because it ended up as spam. Spam is usually encountered via email and social media, when someone hacks your account or when a sleazy person or group gets your email and bombards you with unwanted messages. Well spam conversation is similar. It's where a person is talking to you for a purpose that has nothing to do with you but what you can do for them--more blatantly, to sell you something.

In my case, that person was talking to me because they wanted me to sign up for their services (again, I won't be specific, but trust me, I remember what it is, that it's a service that requires clients). The person was with a reputable company and it wasn't a scam, as spam email often is, but it really blindsided me and annoyed me to the point that I abruptly stopped the conversation. When they continued to try to convince me to at least meet with them to discuss stuff, I bluntly said I'm not interested, and felt like I had been duped. Of course, they gave me their card (which I think I still have as a spam-conversation souvenir) even after I said I wasn't interested.

Basically, people who go to a benign function and use it to get more sales seem like they're there to use people, not to enjoy the function. And having a friendly conversation that masks their true intention--to get a sale--is manipulative and deceptive. So I'm calling that spam, and I'm surprised that I didn't see it coming, probably because the person didn't seem like a salesperson. But that's their skill, I suppose, and why they can afford to live in the nice burbs (assuming that they have a nice house there).
Author : Margaret Larkin

I just had a school cafeteria experience
I wasn't going to write about this publicly, and texted a few people about it, but since they haven't responded, I'll write about it here, because walking around is not enough to process the school cafeteria experience that I just had.

I just started teaching somewhere where I probably know a few people...literally. And they're mere coworkers, not friends (unlike at Daley College, where I would say I work with people who[m] I consider work friends, some of whom I've hung out with outside school...but that's for another, shortly-forthcoming post).

So at this new place where I've taught and will teach again in the new year, I assumed going to the holiday event would be enjoyable. I don't know a ton of people, but I figured I'd meet new people or at least see one of the few I know. I walked into a large room with lots of people eating, standing in line, sitting at tables, and I looked around for one of those known people. Nada. I couldn't see them nor any of the people I'd briefly met since I started. So I got some food and looked for an opening at a table to join an already-established group. I approached a table with four chairs, two of which were occupied. I asked the pair if I could sit there, since I don't know anyone. They looked at me quizzically, then muttered an affirmative. I sheepishly sat down and a bright purple light was shining in my direction, and I dared not move the chair to an unlit spot at the table lest those folks thought I was usurping their cloistered coworker space, so I used that as an excuse to say goodbye, and they barely even nodded in acknowledgement.

I looked around the room and didn't see many available spaces, so I sat at an empty table, near someone else who was sitting alone at another table. Being the social person that I am, I thought of asking the person if I could join them, but they looked too engrossed in eating, and I suspected a repeat of what I'd already experienced across the room, so I sat at the empty table alone, at the corner, figuring that people would fill in the seats next to me. People came in and went, looking at me then walking away. As I was looking towards the entrance for the few people I knew, I noticed a few people came to my table, but sat at the opposite end. I figured I wouldn't get the group experience I was expecting (and not to be naive, but I figured since we all worked at the same place and it was a holiday gathering, that concept would spill over into casual interactions among the crowd), so I just ate and texted a few people about my plight. With no responses from the recipients, I finished eating my meal and walked towards the Big Boss of the place and told them (I'm not specifying gender) that I enjoy teaching there and answered their question about what I taught...thus the first conversation I'd had at the event. I didn't want to leave without a bottle of water, so as I was waiting for the bartender to give me one, I saw a person I'd met a while ago, and said hello. I thought we'd talk about the email they'd sent out that I'd responded to, but they quickly ducked behind a partition and instead of risking standing alone once again, I left.

As I was walking through downtown, I thought this is what people mean when they share their school cafeteria experiences: they sit alone, not part of a group, and no one attempts to befriend them or allows them to sit with them. Usually such people are shunned and they feel awful through those difficult years. My difficulty lasted less than an hour, and I feel better now that I've extricated myself away from there, but for those other people, their ostracism lingers.

And what's ironic about my cafeteria experience is that it took place at a school where some people probably grew up as outsiders. I figured since we're all adults, it would be no big deal to be with people I didn't know, but it ended up being an experience a number of them probably had but hadn't processed it enough to reach out to another solitary table-sitter.
Author : Margaret Larkin

After more than a decade, I did Nanowrimo again
I did Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) a few times, way back in 2002, 2004, 2005, and I think partly in 2006 (though I'm pretty sure I decided not to finish once I barely got through the month), and I really thought I was done with the whole thing, that I would never attempt it again, and would probably not write fiction again. Weirdly, doing all that fiction writing so many years ago led to non-fiction paid writing, including ghost writing, so it worked out professionally. Then I got into audio, then teaching and other stuff, so I thought fiction was gone from my life forever. At one point, when I started the fake blog (which I'm still doing), I started thinking about "what-ifs" so much to the point that I started writing an actual novel again. I was progressing okay, very motivated but not consistent, when someone at a writing group mentioned Nanowrimo. No way, I said, I'm not doing that, it's too intense and crazy, but at the end of October, I signed up, and started writing furiously on Nov 1. I almost quit after a few days because I realized my schedule was too packed to fit lots of writing in, but after reading some articles online about quitting, I decided not to. So I spent pretty much any free time I had, even if it was at 5 AM before work, writing and writing and writing. Halfway through I was dried out and thought I couldn't proceed. But some helpful people at the Chiwrimo group suggested I not only focus on plot but on developing the characters more, and I found myself writing a lot of interior thoughts and voila, after furiously writing all month, I actually finished a few days early.

I was so wiped out, I was numb. What remained was still a strong desire to write, even if it was just at the fake blog. So I've been doing that. But let me reflect on how this Nano was different than what I experienced early in the century:

1 - I'm way more real now. When I did it in the early years, I was a wannabe. Yes, I'm admitting publicly that I was a phony fiction writer. Even though I did Nano a few times, wrote a lot of fiction in those days even outside of November, took classes, formed a writing group and the Metrofiction website, I was of form and no substance. I wanted to make it, get my book done, find an agent and market, and live the writer's life. Then I got so discouraged going down that phony path, I gave it up and worked in the real world and was a writer, but the practical sort (which is fine with me). This year, I was very into the story and how the characters interacted and developed, and really enjoyed the process. I was frazzled, but the writing was really a part of me and I didn't skip to some impossible future in my head but just enjoyed being creative and working ideas out in the moment. So I can honestly say that I'm not a phony wannabe anymore; I'm a writer who may get published or who may not, but either way I'm still into the story and want to continue working it out. (And I really am a writer and am even in the useless Writers Guild, but I'm not a published fiction writer.)

2 - I didn't feel sorry for myself this time around. If you've read earlier posts on this blog (and I shouldn't mention that because it's embarrassing to see how I used to write here), you'll notice that I did a lot of whining. I whined way more in my journal and in my head, but I was such a sorry sap. And it carried over into Nano when I did it those few times. This time, I didn't feel sorry for myself at all, I just wrote and wrote and went for the goal. No time to ponder, just wrote as much as I could and was very productive. I didn't think about being published or being invited to cool events like those famous authors are (who are introverted and would rather be alone, which is mystifying, but that's for another post), I just was in the moment, which left no room for emotions except from my main character who really went through a lot. If I ever can finish writing the book and edit it effectively, you'll find out what I'm talking about. She starts out one way and ends up another way, and if I were a better writer I'd be able to convey that, but who cares...at least I'm trying. See? I've changed as well. She occupies my mind and her world has become an extension of mine, and I'm not crazy, just have a new companion around who I want to write about.

3 - Nanowrimo is huge now. When I did it years ago, it was an alternative group and corner of the Internet that a lot of people didn't know about. I think I found out about it via blogs, but because social media wasn't around, it didn't explode and wasn't the institution it is now. Now they have lots of money, sponsors and deals, professional authors giving pep talks, groups all over the world, a sophisticated website, a more layered financial and social structure, and a lot more. Back then I felt like we were in a small town, at least those of us outside the San Francisco area, where Nano was established. It's sort of like being in Macao before it was handed back to China: it was a quiet place in the corner of Asia, not the wild development that it is now.

4 - I don't want to do it again. I don't know why I did it 3.5 times back in the day, but now that I've done it again, I really can't handle the experience once more. I might change my mind next year because it's a crazy all-consuming pursuit that puts you on a wild ride of intensity, and my life might need that at that moment, but it really took up all my free time. I didn't even have time to blog here or fake blog elsewhere. I didn't even write in my journal. Any time I had to write was devoted to Nano, and I don't know if I want to lack the breathing space again.


Author : Margaret Larkin