Metrolingua

I managed to totally finish a novel, seriously
I keep rewriting and deleting and rewriting this post because I'm trying to capture the incredible satisfaction I feel after truly finishing writing a novel! I started about a year ago, and I ended up writing three drafts...by the end of the third, I really felt like I had taken it as far as it could go. Then I asked a couple of people who are part of my target audience to read it, and they actually read the entire thing and gave me comments. So now I'm working on putting in more changes, but it's taking me a while because I'm letting too much of the world get into my brain. 


I don't want to talk about the drama going on where I live (I've been venting with a few trustworthy people), but it's been hard to get into fiction land. But that shouldn't be an excuse because I was able to push through whatever was going on to finish the book, and amazingly, I was satisfied with just that--finishing the book.

When I started this blog, I thought that the only way to be satisfied was to get published. Why would I enjoy simply writing something that probably wouldn't see the light of day? But I hadn't been so committed before. I wrote stuff and finished drafts, and did Nanowrimo a bunch of times, but I never decided to really finish it to the best of my ability. 

Then last year, after fake blogging for a while and doing a bunch of stuff that involved getting tasks done and not much creativity, I decided to really write a book and revise it. I wanted to give up or got super-lazy along the way, but I overcame my self-defeating thoughts and did the first draft, then the second, and then the third. I was sidelined by various responsibilities and worries, but what got me through was the isolation of work, and the need to connect with the world I was building that was more exciting than what I was experiencing. I ended up writing and rewriting at home, in cafes, and even at work during breaks. I could see the end, and I was going towards the finish line, and I couldn't believe it. When I wrote the final words (or rewrote, depending on what was needed), I felt awesome! I felt like I had just run a huge marathon and was incredibly excited and satisfied. I did it! And that was a reward in and of itself...it was?? 

It was the first time during my years-long pursuit that I stopped being a wannabe and dreamer, and actually got down to business. Before, I wanted to gloss over the process and get it done and miraculously get an agent and some kind of creative future. But this time I really just worked and thought about the story progression and the characters and if it flowed. And whenever I wrote, it was very satisfying and I felt free, separated from the mediocre world I was living in.

Now I have to finish making the changes that the reviewers suggested, and I have to find an agent. But even if I don't get one (and I hope I do, and want my efforts to lead to something greater), just finishing the book is enough. And I totally mean it, which is seriously different from the kind of attitude I've had for years. I thought I wasn't "worth" anything, or better said, what I created wasn't worth anything unless there was a public audience. But the creation is worth something, and getting it done is worth a ton. The feeling of accomplishment is amazing and it is true, that if you set goals and achieve them, it's very rewarding. 

When I first finished, as I said, I was elated, but then I felt deflated. All that work was done. Now what? While I was waiting for the beta readers to respond, I didn't write any fiction because I thought I was "finished." But I kept feeling more irritated and restless, and only had the real world to deal with. So I wrote more fiction, and I'm already thinking about what I want to do for the next book (I already wrote drafts of some books but need to commit to actually finishing them). I have a few solid ideas that are in the same kind of genre and I think I can finish them, too.

So now I have to do the tedious work of integrating the beta readers' ideas and then proceed to the real world, where I'll most likely experience rejection and/or silence. But whatever happens, I know that I finished what I started, which has value in and of itself.

Author : Margaret Larkin

Having a great time with Suivez la Piste!
Because I'm spending way more time at home (interspersed with times of working alone in an office or with very few people elsewhere), I've had a lot more time to study languages, and it's really helped me not feel frustrated or hopeless during this virus time. When I wake up, I might initially wonder what's the point of the day other than just getting work done, but then I think about all the language possibilities awaiting me, and then I feel great.

Well thanks to this extra time (which may not happen again once a vaccine is created or the virus is eliminated), I ended up getting a copy of the very rare, but previously common, Suivez La Piste, which I used many years ago in a school French class. I don't remember exactly when I took that class, but I remember the teacher seeming to not enjoy teaching all that much, and I think he was annoyed with the apathetic/immature students. Little did I know back then that I would want to study languages on my own, and that I would want to use this book again. 

Suivez la Piste: love this book!

The book is a French detective thriller that was created as a radio program on the BBC in the 60s and was published in the early 70s in the US, and it is now very hard to find. I thought it would be available online, but the person who posted the text on a blog had deleted it, and all that remained was the audio. I ended up purchasing the book on Amazon through the IHM Sisters, who raise money to support their community and elderly care in Michigan. The book was labeled "used" but is in excellent shape, just like new, and they packaged it thoroughly so that it arrived in perfect condition. I think I bought the last copy they had, but if you want other books by them, go to their Amazon storefront. 

I'm so used to looking up words in a dictionary or online, at first that's what I did when I didn't understand a word in the book. Then I saw that they had all the words in the back (of course...it's a school textbook), so I don't have to go far to find out what something means. The book also has grammar exercises and explanations for each chapter, and has more extensive dialog than what is in the audio; the book has a line down the side of the dialog that corresponds to the audio, and the extra dialog and description are on the page without a line. 

Page inside Suivez la Piste: the line next to the dialog is included in the audio; dialog with no line is only in the book.

Surprisingly, I think I understand a lot of it, though if I just listen to the story it's hard to catch everything. A person who[m] I contacted online to find out if they had the book (before I ordered it from the Sisters) kindly and unexpectedly gave me some extra exercises and words to look at before I listen to the audio. I couldn't believe they did that--I'd never met them before, but they were very helpful and positive about my pursuit!

Many years ago I'd taken the book for granted because I had to use it in school. Now I see how it's an excellent resource to learn French and be entertained along the way, with references to technology and items that no longer exist, or are barely a part of contemporary culture. It's like a retro radio play, and the acting/voicing is really good as well.

So what seemed like a weird, sort of creepy time (because I don't want to/can't go wherever I want or see or talk with whomever I want [which is very difficult for extroverts/fake introverts like me]) has become a time of opportunity to rediscover language resources from yore and discover new outlets as well.

Author : Margaret Larkin

Social distancing has caused me to study languages more
When I started this blog, it was very language-oriented, but as the years passed, I did posts about other topics and got involved in non-language pursuits elsewhere, so I didn't post much about language, if at all. Sadly, some important people removed me from their lists and I sort of went off in various non-language directions, though I've been copy editing and proofreading for years. 

Now that I've decided to socially distance through 2021 (though I didn't really have a robust social life anyway), I've really gotten back into language. I'm following German, French, and Japanese sources on Twitter, and really should be following Spanish and Portuguese as well, because Twitter is a great way to learn. If I don't know a word (which is often), I look it up. I think Japanese is my most-studied language because there are a lot of really cool accounts that I follow, and some of my retweets are retweeted and liked by Japanese sources, which is really cool. Trying to understand the kanji is very challenging, and is sort of stressful, but I keep trying and it's very fun. There are times when I'll take a work break to read Japanese tweets, then I'll go down a rabbit hole looking up a word, how it's used, etc. Even while writing this post, I took a break to look at some Japanese posts and wow, it is so interesting! 

I've even been reading a 1980s French textbook called "En Route" that I got when I was cleaning out a family member's room (I think...I don't remember how I acquired it, but it was in our previous house). I don't know if the textbook still exists, but it's good, even though I'm sure the readings are outdated. 

A great French textbook from the 1980s.
I recently used the book to study the difference between passé composé and l'imparfait because I'm trying to understand Bruno Crémer's memoir, which seems to be written in tenses I don't always recognize. Trying to get through that book is like trudging through wind and snow...i.e., very hard :( 

Amazingly, in my French-learning pursuit, a very generous person who I've never met but emailed about another obsolete French schoolbook sent me some helpful study materials (I'm being vague because they really did me a huge favor even though I didn't ask for the stuff...they were just very kind and helpful). I can't wait until I do the first lesson. Thus I've discovered a bright spot during this social distancing/lockdown situation!
Author : Margaret Larkin

Before I was situationally socially distanced; now it\'s a choice
As I've suggested and even explicitly stated previously throughout the years, I've not had the most exciting social life, which matters to socially motivated and more extroverted people such as me [I/myself/whatever is correct in 21st century English]. As I've said many times before, I like doing work such as editing, translating, writing, reading, and other brain-stimulating activities that are not socially oriented, but I am not an introvert who is fine with being alone in front of a screen all day. While it may not be draining for an introvert, it's draining for me. My face feels like it's flattening and I feel cut off from society, and would love for someone to talk to me, even to ask me for a pen or something, anything to break up the Screen Stare. That's why I really enjoy teaching (I teach at two higher ed institutions, and they're both great); I really like the students, coworkers, and bosses, and it's like my isolating language world becomes technicolor when I go there.

I could easily write a long explanation of how my situational-decreased social interaction has developed over the years, but basically, I preferred working independently over office politics, and I spent many years helping my parents (at one point admittedly becoming a caregiver), in addition to losing connections (most not by choice) and being married to an introvert.

At the end of last year, when I felt like I'd finally adjusted to no longer being a caregiver, in addition to overcoming the grief from losing my parents and sister and no longer holding on to nostalgia for what I used to have (a very different lifestyle than now), I felt free. I started to proceed to create a new kind of social life, and tried not to feel upset when it didn't match memories of my more robust social history.

Then the virus hit, and we had to stay inside as much as possible. While I was still going to a physical workplace a few times a week, I was still inside a lot of the time, barely talking to people, and I felt like I was back where I started. However, we all had to be inside (even though lots of people have been ignoring social distancing), so for the first time, I wasn't alone in my situational social detachment. Now that the limitations are easing, we will be able to go to more places. But I have decided to continue to social distance for a long time, which weirdly doesn't make me frustrated or sad.

When I was thinking about how my decision hasn't upset me (unlike the past several years full of disappointment and frustration with inadvertent social distancing), I realized why I have a much better attitude about it now: it's a choice I am making, instead of a situation I don't want to be in. There is power in choice. Many times we don't have a choice, or we try to choose a path, but it ends up being destroyed or diverted to something we don't want. For instance, we could have a job we really enjoy and then get laid off. We didn't choose to get laid off so it's depressing. Or we could choose to be friends or work somewhere with people who are toxic. Or we could choose to try to connect with folks who end up rejecting or ostracizing us. Other times, our choices pay off and we're not disillusioned. But either way, it's very hard to feel strong when we really aren't in a position to choose our destiny. Maybe there are people out there who are able to feel strong through the choices they make, but I think it's difficult for a lot of people. But we can choose to have a kind of attitude in the midst of a weird situation such as a killer virus making its way through the world.

So ironically, I am choosing what I haven't wanted all these years and have struggled with, but this time it's to protect myself and those around me. Maybe all those years were to prepare me for this moment, because to stay safe, I need to now consciously distance and avoid people, and deliberately watch from the sidelines, a kind of health-oriented outsider rather than a societal one.
Author : Margaret Larkin

How I\'m still motivated to write even though no one cares
Like a lot of other people, including those lucky ones who've been published or have an agent or editor waiting for their work, I was having a hard time writing during the initial phase of the lockdown. I could easily use work as an excuse, because in the early days, I was working so much, by the time I got a day off, I stayed in bed for hours and didn't do anything productive. But even after that, when my work stabilized and my days blurred together and I had more free time, I still had a hard time, because unlike work, which has deadlines and concrete expectations, what I write doesn't really matter because no one is waiting for it or asking for it. So if I wanted to, I could go for months without writing anything, and no one would care. Maybe in the early days of this blog, people would wonder where I was, but for fiction? I could write five books and it wouldn't matter. I've already written a horrible one, which I threw out in a recent Kondo-related purge, and I'm on the second draft of another. I've also finished Nanowrimo several times, but that's all rubbish, as the Brits would say. What really matters, at least to me, is the revision that I'm doing of the novel. But from late March to late April, I couldn't settle my mind enough to face it. I think it's because the city was rolling up around me and places were shut down and I was spending so much time in front of screens to get paid work done, it was hard to switch to the other Chicago that I've been writing about. Also, I just couldn't calm down. I was on high alert for a virus that was creeping through the city, as if it was randomly going to show up at my door at any moment. It's really irrational but I kept feeling like I had to be ready. Ready for what? If I continue to social distance and sanitize, I think I'll be fine. But I was too tense to relax my mind to get back into the world that's very different from my own.

Then something clicked. I was so tired of my stark lifestyle that I started to think about my fake blog and this real one, and I ended up writing the grateful post (actually rewriting it because the previous version, written in mid-April, had an edge to it that reminded me of how David Bowie probably felt when he recorded Low at the Hansa Studios near the Berlin Wall; my first version was written in a desolate, quiet downtown and I was too spooked to relax). Then I wrote in my fake blog, and something in my mind was open, and the creativity rushed forth. Then I kept writing, whether it was in my fake blog, my novel, here...I'm back!

But still, no one cares if I finish my novel. I have to summon super-powers to motivate myself to finish the revision of the book, and I even have to be motivated to write here and at the fake blog, especially because I don't have the numbers I had when I started this years ago (since I'm not a social media star and don't know how Google likes me at this point), and because I have no idea if anyone has found my fake blog. No one is saying to me, "Where's your latest post?" But I keep on writing. How? Why?

I've done several searches to find out how people stay motivated to write. I found a post about motivation by someone who's refreshingly honest about her experience in lockdown, and I've been watching writers talk about it on MasterClass (which is not a "class" but just a bunch of videos and worksheets that all add up to a high-end YouTube). But the difference between the rich superstar masters and me is that they have legions of fans waiting, editors that would love to help them polish their blockbusters, agents and movie producers who are ready to set new deals...they have major external motivation, and they can buy another house or plane when their new creations are released. I have none of that, though would perhaps be more motivated if people got me a Starbucks card because they like what I write and appreciate what I have done in podcasting. 

Several months ago, when I wanted to give up writing the novel because no one cared, I contacted Austin Gilkeson, who was in the anthology I did a while ago and has since published stories and has an agent. I asked him how he breaks down the general goal of finishing a novel into smaller, attainable goals, and told him that it seems pointless to me because I have no audience. He said that he has "no real system" and what keeps him "going on a project is an obsession with whatever" he writes about. That is dedication to the craft, and it seems like it didn't take a ton of time to get an agent either, which means he's a good writer. I'm probably not a good fiction writer, but I don't know for sure because I don't have any friends/contacts in the biz to give me feedback or even hope that I'm on the right track. Many people struggle to get a pro to take their work, but there are the superstars/well-connected rich people in New York who get a lot of help from their contacts in the publishing world so that they can craft a successful book. I'm not one of those folks, so I'll just keep writing, as Austin has done, and hope that it will pay off some day.

Even now, sitting in a downtown that has become more lively since some restrictions have been lifted, I am motivated to write with no external motivation. And late last night, after I finished some paid work and favor work, I was very motivated to write for the fake blog. What motivates me is the option to step out of my regular life, where I really am not in control of the work. I have to get work done, but I'm not creating the work; I'm merely meeting requirements that others have established. I'm not complaining because I like work so much that I never want to retire, literally, unless I become too ill to work, and am very motivated to be conscientious and a team player. But having to meet deadlines, do things to specifications, fake introversion, etc. feels like I'm just serving all the time and not generating. But when I write what I want, it's my world, my thoughts, my mind. Even now, I have a lot of work waiting for me at my fancy computer, and writing this isn't going to result in a paycheck in the mail, but it's invigorating and I feel more centered instead of being on the edge wanting to be approved or wanting to get tasks done in succession.

What's also helped is being part of a writing group. I don't show anyone my work, but if they say that we're going to meet at a certain time, then I'm willing to write for a couple of hours before we meet up and give a "report," which is really just saying "I wrote/edited x." At least there's some accountability and a deadline. Even if I had just one person to report to, I would be motivated to write because I would want to report something instead of saying "I tried to write x" or "I had a lot of work, so I did that instead." But the bottom line is that in my life of getting stuff done, toiling in obscurity, and suppressing my personality to survive the introverted world, I've carved out a slot that allows me to be independent of constructs and restrictions, and liberates my mind.

Author : Margaret Larkin

MasterClass isn\'t a "class"
Towards the end of last year, someone asked if I wanted to be gifted an "all-access" pass to MasterClass. They had a deal where if one person bought a pass they could offer another pass to someone else at a reduced price (I forgot the details, but it seemed affordable). It's not like I was motivated by the names of the "instructors" because I hadn't consumed all their media or read their work; in fact, I'd only read one book out of all the blockbuster writers, and I'd pretty much watched none of the TV shows they'd written. I'd seen one movie that one of them had written, and I didn't like it. So overall, I wasn't buying in because I wanted to know the backstory of their creations that I'd consumed, because I was hardly familiar with their work; I wanted to know how people had done something that brought them incredible wealth and approval, and I'd figure I'd learn something.

Yes, I've learned things after watching several videos, but I feel like I've just been watching professionally produced videos instead of "taking a class." There are downloadable materials with exercises, but I could pretty much access such exercises anywhere; I have access to books, online articles, webinars, etc. that are all free. What I don't have access to are rich, successful, well-connected people who I can talk with, ask advice from, and who can actually give me feedback on my work.

Because I've been teaching for several years and have taken both credit and non-credit classes online, I know what a class is. Even in online classes, we always have access to the teacher if we have questions. Also, in an online class there are lessons (as there are "lessons" in MasterClass), but we submit our work for feedback, and subsequent discussions are with students *and* the teacher. We also have a substantial onlilne textbook or digital, multimedia package that we work with, so the online material is dynamic, as opposed to MasterClass, which is just videos and some PDFs to download.

In MasterClass, there are "discussions," but they're just posts from other students, and people aren't necessarily communicating with each other. They're just comments that people can like, reply to, or ignore, just like at YouTube or other social media. I've even seen questions in the discussions that were asked in MasterClass that went unanswered. So what's the point of discussions if no one is answering the questions? Also, the site expects students to communicate with each other. But they don't necessarily know a topic at the "master" level; that's why we're at the site, to learn from the masters. So while it's nice to see people from all over the world assembling, they aren't necessarily equipped to lead others; the pros should be facilitating instead of letting the students meander. Since the site is calling these "classes," why isn't the "instructor," or at least someone from their company/studio/etc. or even from the MasterClass site itself, interacting?

The only interaction I've seen are livestreams, which are infrequent. Basically, there are like a hundred "classes," but only a handful of "instructors" have bothered to communicate with "students," and they're only answering questions that are pre-approved by the site. When I joined, there were no livestreams, but I think because a lot of the world is at home, the site decided to offer them during this pandemic, so I don't know if they will continue that when people can go out again. After all, they convinced these uber-successful people to teach by paying them a mere six-figure amount, plus a percentage of sales of their classes, so I'm sure they don't want to make them work even more because they can probably make way more money from their real "jobs."

While some videos are very informative and insightful, I haven't been too thrilled with some of the writing ones. I won't name any names, but it seems like their advice isn't concrete. Some of them say they love what they do, rewriting is hard, etc., but it's really information I can get from a general interview or an article about writing, and I don't need a famous person to tell me that. All they're doing is sitting there and talking and reading from their work. What I've been impressed with are some of the non-writing pros: they literally take you through their process, whether it's showing you the software and equipment they use and taking you through their unique steps, or showing you their production meetings. They break it down for you. So even though I'm still critical of the lack of interaction, at least they're showing us instead of just talking at us like any video online.

I'm not saying my money was wasted, and I'm sure many people have enjoyed the site, but I'm being realistic when I say that I haven't been taking classes there, but rather just watching videos of very successful people who I'll never communicate with, who have created a bunch of handouts that I can read when the videos are over and my membership expires.

Author : Margaret Larkin

Things I\'m grateful for during the virus lockdown
This has been a strange time, and for a lot of people, a very difficult time due to job loss, anxiety, taking care of and educating kids, sudden isolation, etc. In the midst of the challenges, I've managed to see some bright spots. As I've told people offline, it's sort of like seeing empty lots on the south side: within the cracks and crumbling concrete you can sometimes see tiny wildflowers popping up, as if they're reassuring people that beauty can exist even in areas where flowers aren't intentionally planted, as they are downtown.

Even though I sometimes feel sort of uneasy or tense, I've had the time to notice that there are things I've taken for granted that I now appreciate, and new developments in my life:

1 - I have been able to speak honestly with some of my coworkers. There is one part-time job where I have to physically work, and some of the people who remain (because most are working at home) have been fantastic. It started a month ago when someone walked in who usually keeps conversation to a work-appropriate superficial level. They asked us if seeing the empty downtown caused us to feel panic/fear (I forgot the word). I was surprised the coworker brought up such feelings, because they usually didn't share them (though we once had a deep conversation about a previous toxic workplace and abusive boss). I told them that I didn't feel any panic, but later, after hearing story after story of virus suffering and death, I started to feel it. I told the person how I felt, and they reassured me, saying that it's normal to go in and out of it. Ever since that day, I decided to share with certain coworkers how I feel, whether it's about what's going on in the country/state/city, or if it's about the challenges I'm facing at the job. The people I've shared with have been wonderful and very tolerant and non-judgmental, which is an amazing quality to have during such a history-making time. I never thought these people would provide so much support, but they have, and I will never forget it.

2 - I've learned new skills. Because work situations have had to change, I've been given new tasks which I would have never been given before. I was thrown into a situation that I had no experience with, and amazingly, I've been able to adapt. I have never learned so intensely or quickly in my life, and I'm pretty proud of that. Also, I've acquired new work that I haven't done before, and the person I'm doing it for is very cool and easy to work with. It's something that might develop into more long-term opportunities.

3 - I've had time to figure out why I have certain issues. I'm not screwed up, but just like anyone, I have some concerns and fears that I need to face. Today I realized why I have certain perceptions, and it was like something was suddenly flicked off my mind when I figured it out. The downtime allowed me to question and explore, instead of getting busy to avoid the unsettling feeling that always seemed to be with me.

4 - One job became remote a year ago, so I already had something solid. When I was told by someone that I wouldn't be working at a physical location anymore (I'm pretty sure they wanted to get rid of me), I thought that was it and the door was closed. But another person from the place said they wanted me to work remotely instead, so I switched to that. Little did I know that it would give me something steady and I wouldn't have to lose work or adjust to working at home; I've been doing it for a while already.

5 - I notice nature more. The lakefront and parks are closed, but I can still walk down Lake Shore Drive and see the lake and can walk to Navy Pier. It's usually packed with people and traffic, but now only a few people walk around there, so I can hear many birds chirping and see them flying around over the placid water. It is so beautiful and the sounds of the birds are so pleasant, I feel relaxed and inspired by the nature that exists beyond the buildings. When I walk south, I can continue to see the empty lake and river, and appreciate the flowers east of Grant Park and Millennium Park undisturbed, with no crowds walking around to break the silence and obscure the view.

6 - I live in a nice area. I live in one of the best areas of the city, where the population density is high. Yet I am very impressed that there aren't crowds of people outside, and the ones who are keep their distance from each other and are being careful. The number of virus cases in the population is low, which is impressive, since more people live closer together than in other areas. Also, I can easily cross streets against the lights because there isn't much traffic, while viewing some of the best architecture in the country.

7 - I have met some random, grateful, positive people. One night I was leaving work after midnight, and I saw a Sun-Times truck stop in front of the building. A guy got out and walked in to deliver a stack of papers. I greeted him and he said, "You're an essential worker." I said, "Yup, I am." Then he said, "It's a beautiful thing," and smiled. I will never forget that guy who offered such friendliness and exuberance on a cold, silent, dark night. Another time I was at Walgreens and the cashier started singing to a song that was playing in the store. I told her it was nice to see someone who had a good attitude instead of being uptight and paranoid. She said she was glad to be there and we had to enjoy life with what we had. And there's another guy who I saw a couple times at the front desk of a building, who greeted me in such a way that just his manner and the few words he uttered created a deep human connection in an otherwise empty, cold city.

8 - Bad weather is now good. Usually bad weather is annoying and difficult because traffic becomes snarled and it's hard to drive. Many people are still complaining about the weather (usually suburbanites), but for us downtown folks, when it rains, snows, or is cold outside, that means fewer people will be walking around, which is safer. That's why they closed the lakefront: on sunny days, too many people were crowding the paths, which caused the mayor to respond. Since we don't have backyards, we need to get outside, but we have to do it when the sidewalks aren't crowded, and the bad weather allows for that.

9 - I'm finally watching more MasterClass videos. My friend got me a discount for MasterClass back in December, and before the pandemic, I already watched some "classes" (which are really just videos, but I'll do a separate post about it another time), but didn't have time to watch more. I kept telling myself that I "should" watch them, but didn't make the time until now. Recently, I've been watching lessons by deadmau5, whose music I already liked, but who I now have a huge appreciation for because he works extremely hard and puts a lot of thought into what he's doing. If this virus hadn't come, I would've never made the time to watch all his videos and wouldn't have developed much respect for him either. Now I'm very impressed and have been listening to even more of his music since then, which provides a soundtrack while I'm working at home.

10 - I'm studying more Japanese. When I started this blog, I was translating Japanese (and other languages) and was still making an effort to maintain it. Then I got busy and interested in other things, and I pretty much rarely spent time trying to learn new words or read anything. Thanks to being stuck at home a lot, I have been reading more and have been using Twitter to learn Japanese by following various Japanese accounts. I still feel stressed when I try to read the Tweets, but at least I'm making more of an effort than I have in the past. Before the virus, I would do easier things and read a lot of English books. Now I'm slowly getting through one English book while spending more time on Japanese. I'm also on Twitter more than before; I joined over a decade ago but rarely looked at it and rarely posted. Now I'm on it every day. It's interesting and a good place to learn a language (I also follow German and French news accounts).

11 - I'm lucky to work outside the home a few days a week. Even though I have like five gigs going on right now, one of them is in a physical place, which means I get to actually go to work. Since I'm not an introvert (though I've been faking it for years to survive), working at home alone is not energizing and really zaps me and makes me feel detached from the world. By going to a job, I can talk with my coworkers and do work that involves other people, instead of work that involves churning out stuff alone on a computer. It's way more satisfying to be part of a team than a solitary individual in front of a screen.

12 - My social life wasn't great before we were forced to stay at home, so I haven't had to really adjust to having no social life at this time. I used to feel sort of on the outside looking in, watching other people have dynamic social lives and go out and be part of an ongoing social chain. I'm not even popular on social media, so my life was all-around slow. Yes, I'd sometimes go to a party or go out for a meal with someone or go to a writing group, but I didn't have the full-on group experiences that some lucky folks have. Now we're all stuck at home, and while those people are probably having a hard time adjusting, I really didn't have to clear my social calendar (except cancel a lunch downtown with someone). I'm married to an introvert, so we've never had a web of friends, so really, I just have had to adapt to the physical reality of my conceptual lifestyle anyway.

13 - I'm communicating with a couple of relatives I didn't really communicate with before. I have a relative who lives far away, and during this time, I've decided to call them once a week to check in. They have never been judgmental or uptight, and during this time, that's exactly the kind of person I need to communicate with right now. They also understand medical issues, so their professional perspective, combined with their consistent positivity and good outlook, are valuable and refreshing. I'm communicating with another relative about work-related stuff, and they are also very easygoing and positive, and full of energy that I need right now. Before the virus, I wouldn't have recognized their outstanding qualities, but right now, they shine in such a weird and challenging time.

14 - I'm realizing that we have to focus on something to stop the underlying anxious hum. Things are way more peaceful around me because so many people are staying away from my area. I don't even hear the ambulances and police cars that I usually hear on a daily basis. Yet I still feel mildly tense, like I have to be on high alert. It's hard to shake off. But if I am able to concentrate on something, such as writing this post, then it goes away. The bottom line is that my mind can be adaptable, which I hadn't really considered before.

15 - I live near a world-class hospital. If anything goes wrong (which I hope it doesn't), the hospital is so close I can walk there. It's one of the best hospitals in the country, even the world, and they are prepared to handle the virus and a lot more. I'm very lucky to have such resources around me.

16 - Certain stores I avoided before are fantastic now. Before, there were a few stores that I hated going to because they were crowded, or the people working there were apathetic. Now I like them. Even though I live in a highly populated area, for some reason, now they aren't crowded and I can get anything I need. I keep hearing stories of supplies running out, but those few stores that I hadn't liked are replenishing their shelves. Also, the employees are so nice and helpful. They have a good attitude whether they're speaking with each other or customers. It's incredible how some people find the strength within them to thrive in a tough situation.

17 - I still get to interact with people. Before the virus, I was teaching two offline classes. Then we had to move online. While one class was easy to change to digital, the other was more challenging. But the more digitally challenging class has been so fun. The students are very friendly and patient when there are technical issues, and they give me much-needed human interaction in an otherwise isolating experience. Again, I'm lucky I have the wonderful students in addition to the physical job, but then again, when you're not an introvert, a few days a week of human interaction doesn't feel like enough. It's like this: imagine being an introvert and being told you have to speak to a group of at least 30 people every single day, plus work in an open office, plus go to meals with others, plus participate in events. That's an extrovert's dream. But to an introvert, that causes anxiety and energy depletion. Well for people like me, being alone for hours and hours, day after day, is energy-depleting and anxiety-inducing, just as interacting with people all the time is energy-depleting for introverts. But at least something is better than nothing. I don't know what I would do if I had zero human interaction. I would probably panic and suffer.



Author : Margaret Larkin

My uncle died suddenly and this is what I have to say
I just found out a couple of days ago that my uncle died suddenly, and today would have been his birthday. He wasn't a young man, but it doesn't matter how old someone is when they pass away; it's still a shock and is still sad, even if they've been sick for a while. I find it irritating and not comforting when people think it's no big deal when an older person dies. For instance, when my dad died, he was almost 90 and had been sick for a while. It still took a while to get over, and when someone was talking about their dog dying and I mentioned my dad, the person said it was no big deal because my dad was old. Age doesn't matter. So if you're grieving someone whose "time" had come, there's nothing wrong with struggling with it, and it's okay to cry about it and mope, because we all want people to live forever, and it's hard to see them go.

I did the right thing with my parents: I had decided many years ago to help them because they were getting older and initially my mom had serious health issues, and I thought it was the right thing to do. I didn't have kids and didn't have much of a career, and I was willing to stunt that to help them out. Eventually my mom died just when my dad had become very ill, and then in the midst of that, my sister became very ill and died, so I really had to help my dad out. Actually, I could have hired someone more full time to help out, but by that point, I didn't have much to give up; I wasn't on any kind of intense career track and I didn't have anything to lose, so I spent a lot of time with him. I achieved what a lot of the millionaires who live around me haven't: I helped two elderly people live with dignity, and that's worth more than the luxury car and penthouse a lot of the NBA stars who recently descended upon Chicago have. Having no regrets and knowing that I've helped people is priceless, and while I have my own dreams to pursue right now and am older than others who have the same goals, I would absolutely do it all over again.

While I was helping my mom, she didn't want me to talk about her illness, so I didn't say anything for more than a decade. It's really amazing how ignorant and judgmental people can be when they don't know your situation and can't put it in a box. People would tell me to get a full-time job, one person would ask how many hours a week I worked and then add some negative comment, others would think I was rich because I didn't have a typical schedule. However, I was pursuing different things, but because my life didn't look the way other people my age were living, I felt bad when dealing with people's criticism and quizzical comments and demeanor. I internalized their negativity and I regret wasting so many years worried about what others thought. Absolute waste of time...don't do it.

One of the few people who knew about my mom's condition was my uncle, her brother. And she had told him what I was doing for her. I'm pretty sure some other folks knew, but for some reason, he was the only person who went out of his way to thank me. He didn't like to travel so I didn't see him much, but when he came to town, he would pull me aside and tell me emphatically that he was very appreciative of what I was doing. He would even grab my arm to make sure I understood how he felt. I was surprised because he was so intense about it, but it really made a difference. A lot of times when we're on the sidelines on the outside looking in, getting a word of encouragement from others means a lot. And his intense sincerity made it even more special.

Another time when he was in town, I was talking with him about writing and the group and anthology I'd published (thus the initial reason for my business). I also told him about the different places I was working. Instead of getting the usual questions or sarcastic comments that provincial people had thrown my way, he simply said, "You're an entrepreneur!" I had never thought of that, and I wasn't even making much money, but that simple statement was very encouraging. Especially since he was a professional and well-off person, it meant a lot. He had recognized that I was doing things my way, and there was nothing wrong with it.

And it makes sense because he himself had done a lot of different things, and what makes his reaction even more remarkable is that he had become very successful. He went to a good medical school, became a doctor and a professor, he spoke to groups (he was supposed to speak to a physicians group this week) and had written articles, and even wrote a successful novel. He told me that he bought a house from the money he made from that novel, and he also bought gifts for other people. And that was in addition to having a prominent, well-paying job. He was also good at investing, so he was all-around a very talented, smart person. There aren't many people who can do so many different things, plus be successful at it. But he had achieved so much, and I had a lot of respect for him.

He wasn't an easy-going person and had his negative points, and unfortunately, some folks only focused on that. I think that's because some people are so negative and critical, and perhaps envious, that they don't bother to step back to appreciate a person's overall accomplishments and pursuits; they only look at a slice of a person's life. While I knew that he wasn't perfect, I always admired him, and wanted to talk to him more, especially about writing commercial fiction.

In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I told my writing group about him and how I wanted to talk to him about how he got published. I really assumed I'd be able to talk to him, especially since he wasn't ill and was a very lively person who seemed to be destined to live a long time. He liked to talk to different kinds of people, he went out at least a few times a week, walked around his east-coast city, and was interested in what was around him.

Then I got the horrible phone call a couple of days ago. He was gone. I was so shocked, and was walking around my mid-west city when I was talking to other family members about it on the phone. I just couldn't believe it. The uncle who had been so encouraging the few times I'd seen him, and who had done so much, who I'd wanted to get advice from, was totally gone. Just like that. And I absolutely regretted not talking to him. I should have called him. I shouldn't have assumed anything.

So I'm writing this to tell everyone to not assume the people you admire and love will be around. If you have something to say, say it. If you're wasting your time with jerks, stop doing that and get around the good, positive, supportive people in your life. Don't waste your time with people who will pull you down, and don't fill your life with junk just because it's there. Pursue quality and stay in touch with people because you never know if they'll be here tomorrow, or even today. I wish I'd made the effort to communicate more with my interesting, smart, successful uncle, but I didn't, and I have to get over the regret. I also have to focus on good people and experiences, and make sure people know how I feel because I don't want to live through this shock and regret again.

I also have to finish the novel I've been working on, the process I whined about last month. I finished the first draft, and didn't feel very motivated. That's one of the things I wanted to talk to him about...how did he stay motivated? What was his writing process? I don't know because he's gone. But going forward, I'm going to use his memory and success to keep me motivated, and if I get published, I will dedicate the book to him. That should be motivation enough.
Author : Margaret Larkin

I fell into the "what\'s the point" kind of thinking
A while ago, I was hired as a writer somewhere, and I stupidly didn't tell people my experience, so that when my writing wasn't stellar, I'm pretty sure it gave them a reason to despise me. One person asked me if I had experience doing that kind of writing, and I stupidly said "no." I had done similar kind of writing, but I didn't bother to say that. I just said I didn't have the experience. Why, I have no idea. I think I was in the mode of "don't bother to boast because things have changed for the worse in general, and there's no point in scrounging up some confidence when talking to people about my background." I should have said that I did, indeed, have experience elsewhere, which was totally true, because I'd just come from a similar place.

Fast forward to my current fiction-writing attempt, which has resumed due to my underwhelming social life, and one thing that really drives me is that I'm going to prove those naysayers wrong. While they were thinking I probably shouldn't have been hired (even though I passed a writing test, have a writing portfolio, and have done a lot of online writing over the past several years), I was thinking I could try to achieve more.

But after successfully doing Nanowrimo and thinking that I have the motivation to continue churning out words, I ended up petering out. I was working a lot, which is a common excuse that lots of people make, but people who are motivated to write do it any chance they can. I was doing that for a bit, writing early, during breaks, going to a writing group, but then life took over and my will to write faded into the distance. And when I had some time during the holidays, I still had some work to get done, plus chores, plus lots of sleeping because I'd been sleep-deprived, which messed up my system.

Then I got into the usual thinking that I've been in before, in addition to scores of other people: what's the point? Should I keep working towards something that might not happen, that will probably never happen? I can write here, interview people for some podcasts, read books, get stuff done. Basically, there are many attainable goals, but writing a novel is an impossible one. I'm goal-oriented, but trying to write a decent story, then revising it, then getting an agent, then getting published, then revising again, then trying to sell are all extremely difficult goals. It's very satisfying to attain a goal and to be rewarded in some way, but to keep working with no end in sight? Why?

I've talked to people who've barely gotten any writing done, and I think I know why. When we're operating in the real world, there are things in front of us to get done or to overcome or to figure out. Our minds are on the level of reality, trying to make sense of it all and reaching constant conclusions. But fiction causes us to pull away from that reality into a world that yes, is satisfying because we're creating it and there are no jerks to tell us what to do or to demand anything from us, but is never-ending. Writing fiction causes us to dream as well, hoping for an end to our quest, for finding an audience that will react to what we're doing. Plus, if a writer gets other deals, such as movies or TV or translations or whatever, then their work is really rewarded, and they can live a better life and have a larger circle of friends, etc. They can do readings and interviews and go to cool events. But that's only for the very select few. The rest may get published but don't get noticed, or they never get published are are working in a vacuum, full of hope and frustration.

Some (or many?) people have a desire to express themselves creatively and to display their unique voice because much of what we do is a suppression of who we really are. Basically, if I could make a living being myself, that would be fantastic. But very few people get that chance, so I, like millions of others, need to negate who we are or just function in the parameters that others set for us to survive. So writing (or other artistic endeavors) is a way to fly in the space we choose, and despair can result from the toil and eventual difficulty of making the pursuit more than just an inconsistent occurrence.

Anyway, now that I'm writing this, it makes me realize that I've been operating in reality too long. Some weird and disappointing interactions with people are weighing me down, the winter is cold and dark, the deadlines are constant, and life seems dry. Fiction makes it more interesting, like we're entering a doorway to another world which is run by us. Even just blogging my thoughts makes me feel like I'm carving out a space that I don't usual occupy elsewhere. I'm sure if I were super-successful, someone would ask me to write my thoughts about a subject, and it would be satisfying to know that others are reading it and I'm being acknowledged in some way. But at least I'm doing something instead of just feeling dissatisfied and dejected.

And even though I've been struggling to stay motivated and to try for something that may never happen, I've still managed to write over 200 pages of the novel I'm working on, and that is in addition to another quick draft I did of another story for Nanowrimo, which was 50,000 words. So instead of feeling sorry for myself or doubtful, I should be proud because of what I've been able to get done. And right now, I'm reading through what I've written so far, and it doesn't seem like such a disaster, though editing and more writing are necessary.
Author : Margaret Larkin

I hate books that are written like the spoken word
I just finished a book that is a New York Times bestseller, has probably made the person millions of dollars, and gets great reviews online. But after reading it, I was irritated, not just because the content wasn't my type of stuff, but because the entire book was written like the person was making a speech. And it went on like that for a couple hundred pages.

I don't want to name the book because I don't want to get flamed, and other people I know who read it loved it. But that's the second book I've read recently that was written by a famous, rich person, is a bestseller, and is beloved by many people all over. The other book, which I also won't name because it was so popular, was much worse than the one I just read. It promised to be a kind of self-help book, but it gave no advice, just had repetitious ideas and phrases, and was more like a choppy one-person show than the written word. And what's even more baffling is when some of those writers talk about their education, whether it's private schools, honor rolls, or prestigious universities. So they're educated and probably had to write a lot to get good grades, but pretty much cop out of a more literary style when writing several pages. It's like they don't want to commit to trying to write complex sentences and more thoughtful expressions, but instead want to transcribe their talk and call it a day.

There is another person whose books are extremely popular, who've made them millions of dollars and allowed them to have a private plane, huge home, etc. They didn't start out famous, but they became that way after speaking all over the world and writing those books. One of them has sold millions of copies, so I tried to read it after someone recommended it. I could barely get through the first several pages. Every sentence read like a speech. I found another book that covered the same topics (which makes me wonder if the rich person took those ideas, since it was written before their bestseller), and it was way more enjoyable to read, and effectively communicated the writer's ideas, because it was created as the written word, not the spoken one.

And in case you think I'm being critical because I'm envious, I'm not. Sure, I'd love to become rich through a book, or write a book because there's an audience waiting to hear what I have to say. And I don't disparage anyone who likes those kinds of books. I'm just bringing this up because I really like when people attempt to write a book reflecting a style that glides, that takes the reader on a journey, rather than throwing words in our faces, assaulting us with a loud stand-up act or stage performance. If I want that, I'll watch them live or on video; I don't want to read it.

Also, in case you're thinking, "Well you don't know those writers; you're not a fan; you didn't like the content anyway," that's not accurate either. I am not a big Liz Phair fan, even back when she was super-popular. But I enjoyed her book anyway, even though I couldn't relate to what she was talking about, and even though some of the content was not the kind I usually read. But it was very well-written. She has a good education, which she doesn't negate to write super-simple like some of those other people.

There's another angle on this, which I just realized: Judy Blume was saying in her master "class" (which is really a series of very interesting lectures more than a class) that before you send off your manuscript to the outside world, you should read it out loud. She said that she realized the importance of doing this when she recorded the audio versions of her books, and was told to strictly read what she had written instead of improving it along the way. She said that when you read your writing out loud, you'll understand it better, what works, what doesn't, etc. So maybe some of those multi-millionaires wrote in that way because they knew they would eventually record them, and they wanted to make sure that their audio sounded as good as the published version of their books.

Whatever the reason, I'll continue being in the minority of non-fans of those blockbuster writers/celebrities/super-successful people and will continue toiling in obscurity.
Author : Margaret Larkin

Translation of a Polish student\'s personal creative essay
I've been teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) for several years, and one of my students from this past semester gave me a translation of something that she wrote in Polish. Unfortunately, I don't have the original Polish text (maybe I can ask her to give it to me next year), but I have her translation, which she wrote by hand and which I typed out here:

Romeo and Juliet

The end of romance, the end of spoken words, "Moment, please last forever."
Only emptiness is left...a longing for closeness, for the touch of bodies that, despite the influence of gravity, could not penetrate each other, could not become one.
There is only an echo, an echo of memories...of those crazy nights, a subtle shining moon that opened its eyes at the sight of drunk Romeo and wild Juliet--a version from under the bridge.
They were not allowed to die together of love. Someone wrote a new script, a new version of the film in which the characters played themselves--so called sketches of the past.
Romeo is dancing tango with the chosen one of his life--a bottle of brandy. Julia experienced her first death, she buried her feelings. It wasn't she who became dead. Others became dead to her...Dead to make her able to love again, to fill her interior with pleasure, with desire for closeness. She became like his sperm--she exploded with a lust for love for a second, and then she returned to her previous form--a self-sufficient haven.
I think the art fell in love with her. It was the art who opened its mouth one night and whispered words to Julia--"I will be your lover, I will caress your inside and through your visible moans you will let the world know that you feel fulfilled."

A tree without feathers...stands naked, all exposed.
It's watching my window. Maybe it thinks it would be nice to be in my room, warm its nakedness under a warm duvet. I am sure it would appreciate four corners. What about the yellow walls?
The sun would speak to the tree through them. The tree would admire with pride two artificial butterflies. It would say--"They dared to fly to the sun."
Maybe it would do a little redecorating...
Right in the middle of my room it would set its root.
It wouldn't need a window anymore.
It would remind it about naked days, days when everyone passed it with indifference, even the one who opened the curtains from night every morning to make her room a light for a moment...
"The darkness of your eyes awakened me from my sleep. I say, with hand on my heart, that in the whole spectacle they play the main role.
The thunder sounded in my heart!
Lightning, however, has its beginning in your pupils.
Your repugnance will not last forever.
There's something about you stranger..."
They f--- every night.
****
"Only those who went through darkness can see the beauty of the stars."
****
"I curse tradition--thought patterns that attribute immortality to themselves, wanting to serve their people forever. It's not easy to tear this system apart. We would have to become complete darkness for a moment, so that we can turn on our own light...the light of freedom. I thought I had reached this state, that I had completely faded. Damn it! The light is still shining. I will give myself time. I will understand in time that this is all a process."
Author : Margaret Larkin

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