I've been doing some radio/podcast interviews lately for my debut novel called Wicker Park Wishes (this is not blatant self-promotion, merely a fact for the purpose of this blog post), and people have asked me how I developed the main character because she definitely isn't based on moi, and the entire story is made up, actually. I mentioned the fake blog, and thought I had been writing it for a couple years, but I actually started it four years ago! I haven't written in it every day, but I've been in touch with it since then, and would have posted more if the pandemic's lockdown hadn't happened, because what can you post about when you [your character] can't go out?
I thought I wouldn't want to keep fake blogging because the novel is printed, and I've already reached the 50k mark of the second draft of the follow-up novel (which no one has requested, but I'm doing it anyway). But I've realized that if I keep working and getting tasks done and meeting deadlines and being busy with lots of non-creative work, I really need to break away to have fiction fun. Weirdly and luckily, I've been over-employed during the pandemic to the point where I'm sometimes working four gigs in one day. And while I like being busy and don't plan on retiring, I don't do work where I'm in my own world, in control of what I'm doing. I have to get stuff done for other people and make sure I am productive so that my uber-employment will continue. But sometimes I just feel very constrained and drained, so even if I don't have time or the head space for working on the second novel, I can still get satisfaction from expressing myself in the fake blog.
And this goes back to what I've said before, in a post that I can't find right now, that doing something creative allows you to step outside of the mundane and trivial to do something that you shape yourself, that you have control over. For instance, if someone doesn't treat you well or if you feel like you can't express yourself in your job, you can channel your frustrations into what you want, and no one can get to it. There's a freedom and release when we create something, like we're taking a trip without physically leaving our space. Even just doing this blog post is energizing, so that I can resume my technical tasks in a timely manner so that I don't get in trouble.
When I started this post, I was planning on writing in the fake blog because I've been feeling like I'm approaching burnout, and haven't used my spare time to create anything. I keep telling myself that even if I spend 15 minutes writing something that has nothing to do with work, I'll feel better, but I haven't done that. I think it's because I'm tired and am trying to make sure I sleep and exercise enough. But now that I've finished this post, I have a bit of time before I have to work, so I'm going to some fake blogging now :D Author : Margaret Larkin
I got an invite to a memorial for Sam Wiener, who sadly died in March 2020 at the age of 24, in the early days of the pandemic shutdown, and I ditched the other blog post that I was writing to write this.
Sam was known and beloved by hundreds of people who played tennis and took lessons at Northwestern University's indoor and outdoor courts. He went to Evanston High School and then went to college out of state, then came back to Evanston before finishing his bachelor's to teach tennis and help his family. Eventually he went back to college at Loyola to study business while still teaching tennis.
He was a really good guy. His father had had a serious bicycle accident, and Sam was there for his parents and spent time with them while his father recovered. When he told me about his dad's situation, I was really impressed because he'd gotten off the education track to help his dad and to be available when he was pretty much a teenager. He wasn't necessarily an outgoing guy, but he spent a lot of time helping and teaching people, showing incredible patience and understanding.
I hadn't played tennis since I was a child, so it had been well over 30 years since I'd picked up a racquet or even gotten on a court. I was a horrible player and out of shape, starting from pretty much nothing; even when I played as a child, I just hit and had fun, playing on a court at the neighborhood park. I had never been athletic, while Sam had been athletic his entire life, so he was dealing with someone who was way below his level and ability. I even told him why I hadn't pursued sports, offering a bit of TMI, but he was cool about it, and even shared a bit of personal information about himself.
Sam was an understanding person, and gave me great advice that not only helped me on the court, but in life as well: "move on to the next ball." He told me this after I repeatedly got angry at myself for missing a ball, full of regret that I was such a bad player and hadn't been physically active as he had been. But those few words changed my game. Since he told me that, if I missed a ball, I'd tell myself to move on to the next one; forget about the mistake I made and focus on the moment, what's coming up, and do my best.
Then I carried that over into my life. If something bad happens or I am disappointed, I tell myself to move on to the next ball. I don't ignore my feelings or stay angry or annoyed with someone, but once I work through how I feel I move on to the next ball, which is the next experience or next day or next person.
Someone told me (or maybe it was him; I don't remember) that some of the Northwestern varsity tennis players gave him a hard time, sort of "pulling rank" for not being like them. Sam was a great tennis player, so I don't know why they would put him down like that. I have met former pro athletes, one who even has a Super Bowl ring, and they don't have such an attitude. When I talked to one former pro player about the college athletes that I'd heard about, they said once you play pro, you lose that self-righteous attitude. It's probably because the stakes are higher and everyone around them is excellent.
I am very sad that Sam is gone, and like a lot of other people, I wish I could have helped him. I know that he had some issues that he sort of shared, and I could see that his demeanor had changed and he was probably overwhelmed and/or stressed or concerned about things, but I didn't know what the details were. I knew that something must have been up because he looked different, but I didn't ask because I wasn't friends with him, just someone in the tennis-playing sphere. I think about him every day, and I will always remember what he taught me.Author : Margaret Larkin
I saw a documentary about a very successful author, and they were talking about how difficult it became to write, because there were a lot of expectations placed upon them, and it caused stress and anxiety. I don't know what fame and wealth are like, and probably never will, but I could understand how it could cause problems.
However, it also made me think about the various people who pursued their craft, then became famous and wealthy, only to eventually say, "All I want to do is write/perform/play" etc., complaining about the demands of the business or being exposed to the public.
So let's break this down: they worked on their craft, dreaming of an audience, then they got the audience while also becoming wealthy, and then they're complaining about the situation. If they really only cared about their craft, or working in isolation, why didn't they stay there? When someone creates something special, and an agent or manager approaches them, signs them to a lucrative deal, perhaps after a bidding war, what do they think they're getting into? There are many examples and lots of information out there about the business, but it seems like they totally ignore it, assuming that contracts and commitments don't matter, especially if an organization has paid big bucks for their work.
Even the first step, when an agent or manager wants to represent them, is a signal that they're getting into a business and will acquire an audience and an industry that want something and will continue to give them contracts and deadlines, especially if they've been successful. I talk to many writers who are having a hard time getting their work done because no one is waiting for their work; they have to motivate themselves to get it done. But some successful writers lament those contracts and deadlines, which would be a dream situation for the aspiring, struggling authors. The extrinsic motivation creates the momentum, but it's like the successful pros take it for granted.
Another thing I've noticed is that they sit in their large home, perhaps one of a few, and they talk about wanting a simpler life. But their success has opened all kinds of doors, not just the ability to buy what they want, travel where they want, and pursue the hobbies they are most passionate about; they are invited to the best events, are in demand as a speaker, develop friendships with some of the most talented people on the planet, and have access that most of the world doesn't have.
There are plenty of successful people who are enjoying the fruits of their labor. I recently read Irving Fein's biography of Jack Benny, and it is clear that he worked hard in show business to achieve an amazing level of success and fame. He seemed to totally enjoy it, and was aware of how wonderful and productive his career was, including hanging out with cool people he met because of his high cultural standing. His wife also seemed to love the luxurious lifestyle, and they had lots of friends and went to fun parties and lived life to the fullest. He obviously knew what he was getting into, and wasn't perplexed or disappointed by the demands of the business.
Meanwhile, there are pros who are perplexed, stressed, or disappointed about the biz, whose success has put them in what people would consider a privileged position. Maybe they should help others out to achieve the same dream, or give them access to the dynamic opportunities and events when they don't want to show up.
p.s. My novel, Wicker Park Wishes, will be published by Eckhartz Press. Pre-order here.Author : Margaret Larkin
I lucked out in getting a COVID-19 vaccine because on the day that I became eligible, I wasn't able to get an appointment, so I figured I would have to wait a while. However, as I was walking home from my essential job, I had a feeling that I should walk into Walgreens and try to get on a waiting list, in case someone cancelled. I talked to a pharmacist and explained how I was eligible (I was eligible in three work categories, which makes sense because I have five different gigs), and she put me on a list, telling me that I would have to show up soon after they called. I said no problem, since I lived very close, so could get there in minutes.
I assumed that I wouldn't get a call, but miraculously I did that same day, and I happened to be walking home from the gym, which was also not far from the pharmacy. I ran over there and was stunned because I'm pretty sure I was the only person called in from the list that day, and I sat in the chair repeatedly thanking them because I'd spent the past year going to work and even teaching an in-person class, which had made me feel stressed.
Right after I got the Moderna shot, I was lightheaded and dizzy, and they had me sit in a chair. The dizziness subsided but the lightheadness didn't, but I walked home anyway, assuming I'd get better, especially because I'd just done an intense workout and figured that probably affected how I was responding to the vaccine. But the lightheadness and some dizziness stayed with me for a couple of days. I basically felt like I had a kind of brain fog, and if I tried to read something, it was hard for me to concentrate on the words. I could still work, but I couldn't focus in on details and I just powered through. When the fog disappeared I felt better, so I was in the clear.
Because I'd been a walk-in, I didn't have an automatic appointment for the second shot. I went into Walgreens and then called them a couple days later to let them know that I was due for a second shot, and I assumed I'd get it towards the end of the eligibility period. But again, miraculously, they called me in right away, and what's even more amazing is that I usually have to work on Sunday, but I happened to not be scheduled that day. So I got the shot on Saturday, would have all day Sunday to deal with the symptoms, and then go to work on Monday.
But my experience after the second Moderna shot was worse. At first, I felt a bit tired, and after I took a nap, I woke up feeling fine. I thought I'd dodged the dreaded symptoms that everyone was talking about, but late on Saturday night, I woke up with the worst headache I'd ever had, accompanied with serious nausea. I spent the entire night dealing with a pounding head, and no painkiller would relieve it. I kept feeling like I was going to throw up, and even drinking Pepto Bismol did nothing. I stayed in bed from Saturday night until 1 AM on Monday, and the only reason I got out of bed was to go to work; I didn't eat anything, just stayed in bed day and night, and then I had to be at work well before dawn on Monday.
Because I'm an essential worker, I had to go to work, and if I called in (not sure if I qualify for a sick day since I'm a part-timer and a certain amount of hours have to be racked up), there would be no one to cover for me at that hour. Maybe one of the bosses would've been able to come in and do my job, but that would be unfair to them, not only because I have the lowest job in the place, but they already do a million things. I had to drag myself into the shower and regular clothes, and I felt horrible. My body was exhausted from fighting the effects of the vaccine for a couple of days, my head was totally pounding and felt like it was going to explode, and I hadn't eaten anything in more than 24 hours. I managed to get to work by 2:30 AM, and I thought being busy there would make me feel better, but I just struggled to make it through. I still ate nothing and my headache was a bit better, but I felt gross and very tired. I felt consistently nauseated and achy and I really shouldn't have been there, but technically I wasn't sick, just having a strong reaction to the vaccine.
As soon as I was done with work I rushed home, got into bed, and slept. Then, suddenly, the headache and nausea were gone by the afternoon. I finally ate something and took no more painkillers (which had been useless anyway). But for the next couple of days, I didn't want to eat much because I was afraid of the nausea returning, and I continued to have body aches. It might have been a combination of lying around so much and still being affected by the vaccine. Luckily, painkillers relieved the aches and I eventually got better. By the time I was finished at the gym on Wednesday, I felt hungry enough to eat a meal and the aches were gone.
Basically, I rarely get sick, and I have only called in sick once in over a decade of working at various jobs, so my track record has been good. Maybe that's also why I didn't call in--I wanted to maintain my good track record. And because I rarely get sick, I wasn't used to not feeling well; I thought the symptoms would continue, and I was sort of scared when it took a four days to feel totally normal again. I get the flu shot every year, and never have any side effects. I also never get the flu and rarely get colds. The one time I did get a severe cold was after my dad died, when my caretaking duties were over, and it was as if my body was telling me to drop the adrenaline and relax into illness.
A lot of people are doing whatever they want after getting both shots, but I'm still going to be careful because the pandemic isn't over, and I don't want the virus in my body, even though I have the means to fight it (as long as it works against the variants). Also, it's not clear if vaccinated people can still spread the virus, so I don't want to affect other folks. I'm glad I got it, but was surprised my reaction was so extreme.
Author : Margaret Larkin
As I've said before, I really enjoy teaching English to immigrants (English as a Second Language - ESL) at Daley College, which is on Chicago's southwest side. When I wrote that post, I had been working there for 13 years, and I didn't know if I would get another class to teach this semester. But I did get a class in January, so now I've been there for 14 years!
We're still online due to the pandemic (and that area of the city has the most cases), but I've still gotten to know the students pretty well, and one of the students has been creating videos and even has a business.
Last week, he showed the class a video that he created via a drone, and it features the South Side (of course), near the Dan Ryan Woods. I've driven past that forest preserve many times, because sometimes a good way to get to Daley, which is located at 76th and Pulaski, is to take the Dan Ryan Expressway, get off at 87th street, and drive west. The video is below, and can also be viewed on Facebook. He's also on Instagram @chrisamfilms
Video: Dan Ryan Woods, by Chrisam Films
p.s. My novel, Wicker Park Wishes, will be published by Eckhartz Press. Pre-order here.Author : Margaret Larkin
Update: pre-order by debut novel at Eckhartz Press.
I don't know how many people have been reading this blog the entire time, since around 15 years ago, but I've been talking and whining about trying to write fiction for a while. I managed to finish novels and drafts that I ended up throwing out because they were so bad; there was no point in keeping them around. Well, as I said before, I was working on a novel from fall of 2019 to fall of 2020, and after I mentioned that I totally finished it, I ended up sending it to Eckhartz Press. After some months, they said that they wanted to publish it.
I actually can't believe what I wrote is going to be out there, and I feel sort of sick about it, not because I'm not glad, but because it's actually happening. I've helped other people write with none of my attribution (which is totally fine), and have my own bylines out there, including audio interviews I've done, but this is the first time that a novel will have my name on it.
I've contacted some people to review it, and they'll be getting a copy when it comes out, which is later this year. Thankfully, one of the people who read the book pre-publication had this to say, and this is not a fake review; this is her honest opinion:
Margaret has a way of writing about Chicago and transporting the reader back to a time before the Internet was a part of daily life, before we were tethered to our cell phones and when you actually called people to make plans and have interpersonal relationships. "Wicker Park Wishes" really takes me back to the 1990s with Margaret's artful and accurate style of writing, and the descriptions of Chicago neighborhoods from that time make me feel as if I am really there. She does a great job painting a picture of Chicago without making it seem forced.
? Tina E. Akouris
What I've done is set up a newsletter, not just to let folks know what I'm up to, but to promote other people as well. To get the newsletter, sign up to stay in touch here. Thanks!Author : Margaret Larkin
I was making a list of all the activities I did over the past couple of days online and on my computer, and you'd think I had the most dynamic work and social life ever. But all I was doing was looking and speaking into a screen, and the flat experience made me feel disconnected and down.
Now to some folks, not interacting with people IRL and spending hours in front of a machine is a fantastic lifestyle. But to me and I suspect millions of others, it's a way of dehumanizing our existence. The architects of technology probably imagined a world that's efficient and does not have to be messed up by small-talking humans, so they've pretty much gotten what they've wanted. But to those of us who actually like heartbeats and laughs, it's been challenging, and spending time online socializing is two-dimensional.
Even though I socialized and taught online the past couple of days, and got a lot of non-people-related work done on my high-quality Mac that has a large screen, decent sound, and a sharp graphical interface, I still felt like I barely existed. I even walked outside surrounded by snow, lights, and notable architecture, but I still felt like I was some kind of detached machine that had unplugged from another. It wasn't until I went to the store to get a few items that I finally snapped out of it. All I did was order something from the deli, and when the person working behind the counter (and plexiglass) asked me to repeat what I said, I joked that one day we won't have to try to figure out what each other is saying through masks, and she nodded, and then I thanked her for taking care of my order. I don't know why that broke my automaton sensation, but I felt like someone had opened the door and cut the cord and allowed me to live in the real world again.
I think it's because I had a spontaneous interaction with someone, and it wasn't work-related. I'm lucky that I can go to an essential job a few times a week, but there aren't many people there and they're all busy in a high-pressure situation, so even if we do chat, it doesn't feel like a break but a tense reprieve. And being at home for hours in a room getting stuff done and feeling more empty after scrolling through social media doesn't fix the problem, even though my productivity has increased. Having online meetups is better than nothing, but it all still makes me feel flat. I am conforming to the screen, not moving or interacting with anything three-dimensional, and I still have to fake introversion to keep things together. I feel like my face has become a wall, because I don't want people to misinterpret my expressions, so I try not to have any. And if I smile (barely), it's still an act, because I'm trying to stay in control of my screen image.
And then there's this: part of the flurry of my online experience was a seminar that was led by a very talented speaker whose lectures I'd attended offline before. And that person managed to be animated and dynamic on screen, so they seemed to effectively transform their offline presentation to the digital space. But it was like what I'd observed before the pandemic: the person was really friendly and interactive, but I know they're really not like that. Yes, they're yet another person who seems to be so into people, but it might just be an act: one time we were heading in the same direction, and I was the only one who could drive them several miles back to where they were staying. I assumed that since they were so into people and so talkative, we'd have a conversation during the trip back to the city. But they didn't want to talk and didn't initiate any conversation. So the talkative, energetic, seemingly people-oriented person, who makes money from working with and helping people, wasn't really that way; they were withdrawn and awkward. So remembering their outgoing act became part of my excessive screen deflation and just reinforced the fact that it's much better to meet authentic people, especially offline. Author : Margaret Larkin
A while ago, I had a part-time job that was not exactly the most thrilling situation. It wasn't bad, and the work was honest in a decent place, but it wasn't very stimulating. An introvert or person who doesn't want to deal with people would've loved it, but since I'm not introverted (thus had to fake introversion, as usual), it was difficult for me. Then I found a great article written by Jennifer Winter that gives advice when you hate your job.
There are three tips: get up early, make plans, and make a list. I actually applied all of them, and it helped get me through the situation. But the first point stuck with me because I ended up loving waking up early. I took her advice and woke up some minutes before usual, then it ended up being a couple of hours before departure time. I would watch TV, read, eat, drink coffee, and even nap. Then I would go to work, and I would feel better because I'd had a couple of hours to do what I wanted. It became a habit to the point that when I later got an additional part-time job, I woke up very early (though I was too tired), got to the job before it opened, and wrote in my fake blog or worked on my Nanowrimo project or just read. Then when that job started, I'd spent some time doing what I wanted, and I felt motivated.
I currently don't have any dreaded jobs, but I still like to wake up very early. The exception is if my work hours are tough; sometimes I end work at 1:00 AM, and sometimes I start work at 2:30 AM. I cannot handle waking up at midnight before going to work before dawn; I would probably collapse. But in normal situations, I often wake up early.
For instance, today I woke up before 5 AM, and I don't have to be anywhere until 8:30. I ate, drank coffee, spaced out, watched TV, read stuff online, sent emails, and am now writing this. Since I have to work late tonight, I'll probably take a nap later, or if I can't sleep, I'll do other stuff. But there's something about waking up early and doing stuff in my own space in the relatively quiet hours of the morning (unless there's drama or trucks or sirens outside) that is refreshing and motivating. It's like the day is blank and I can put on it what I want, and not many people are privy to the freshness. When I was free on Sunday mornings (now I usually work before dawn), I would wake up early and do things before I had to be anywhere. When I walked outside, I saw other early-risers, and it was as if the city was ours. Then later, the general public would join in, and it's like our exclusive early club was over, and we had to share the area with lots of other people.
Of course, I am not perfectly disciplined, so I have woken up at a normal time. But it's not the same because I'm in the rush with others, and I'm just trying to catch up. Also, if I have to be somewhere, there's not much space to ramp up to departure time, so there's no time-gift waiting for me; I'm just functioning and getting things done. And if I really sleep late, which is rare, my mood dampens and I can even end up with a headache.
Basically, every time I wake up early, it's like the day is greeting me and letting me know that there are possibilities. The sun is breaking through the darkness and the beginning of the day is saying it's possible to start over or try something new. Sounds like I'm trying to be cleverly creative in my description, but I'm trying to honestly convey what I feel when I wake up early. Right now, I see the sun hitting the top of a building nearby, and it's letting me know that another day is opening up, and there are still things left to strive for and work to get done (because I actually have to get a lot done today and tonight...I'm definitely busy this week).Author : Margaret Larkin
Even though I said last year that I will never do Nanowrimo again, and I also said it the year before that, I did it yet again this year! If there were no pandemic, I wouldn't have done it, because I would have spent a lot of time commuting, working, and perhaps socializing (though my social life wasn't great anyway before the virus), but since we've had to stay at home so much and social distance, I had more time on my hands. So I figured I'd do it again. And I'm not as wiped out as previous years.
This year, for the first time, I joined writing sessions ("sprints") on Twitter, and they were really helpful. If I had more time, I would have edited what I was writing along the way, but since the daily word count had to be about 1700 words to reach the 50,000 by the end of November, it would have turned the couple of hours that I had free into several more.
In the past I had an idea and just wrote a bunch of pages about it, knowing that most of it wasn't salvageable. But this year, I took a character from the novel I finished and put him in the Nano draft as a love interest of the main character in this new book (he was a love interest in the previous book, and this takes place a few years later). You wouldn't have to read the first book to read this new one, but it would at least answer the question of what happened to him in the previous one.
And when I'm talking about "book," it's obviously got a long way to go, because during Nanowrimo I wrote a bunch of scenes that were really rough. I had the main character, had an idea of her journey, and other characters, and wrote a lot. But because I had to keep going, I would make notes along the way such as "check this" or "finish this." For instance, when the month ended and I thought about tech in the late 20th century, I realized that texting wasn't common. Flip phones had emerged, but even texting on flip phones didn't really happen until the early 21st century. So that's something I definitely have to fix in the rewrite. I also have to find out more about a south side neighborhood where some of the story takes place. I was in that neighborhood back then, but it was less developed than it is now, and the shiny police station there wasn't built until about 10 years after the time the book takes place. So there are a lot of "check this" in such sections because I don't totally remember when the transformation of that area took place (it was most likely seedy for the time period that I'm writing about, but I need to check just how run down it was).
Just as in previous years, I was so used to writing intensely that when December started, I still had a burning desire to keep writing. But then my real-world work responsibilities hit me like a wave, and I couldn't get the energy to write every day. But I have been writing often, by either reworking the Nano draft or writing in my fake blog, or here. Basically, I love writing and feel irritated if I go too long without creating something, because my life is basically about getting work done and not really generating that is unique to moi.
I just looked at what I wrote and it's still a mess. There are random scenes and holes. But the basics are there, and at least I understand who the central characters are, and the potential conflicts. What's cool, though, is that I discovered stuff as I kept writing, such as focusing on a ring or having the main character find something out about her mom that she didn't know, which in her world is quite a bombshell. I also figured out what her friend's issue is, which has made her bitter and rebellious, which also makes sense in the main character's world. So I'm on my way! But I have a lot to fix!
Author : Margaret Larkin
I have a lot of work experience, and of course, I've made mistakes along the way (which I've learned from, so it's not all been in vain). I've also traveled to many countries, lived abroad, worked in all kinds of situations, been to all parts of Chicago, and have met hundreds of people. I am educated, with a bachelor's and master's degree, and have taken several classes in addition to that formal education. I also read books and articles in at least a few languages (for which I often use dictionaries), and write pretty consistently. In other words, I'm qualified to do a variety of jobs, and if I don't have such experience, I'm able to learn how to get a job done. I have good references, and even when I've wanted to drop a job, some people have convinced me to stay. Even if they don't explicitly say that they like having me on board, their responses have shown that they think I'm a valuable worker.
The reason why I'm saying all this is because sometimes I put myself in a situation that I am over-qualified for, and that is totally fine with me. I don't need to do high-level jobs, and I don't have to associate with people who have the education and experience I have. I actually like people and like learning in all kinds of situations, even if I know that I could do more. Yet I choose to not always go for the top. I started taking that approach several years ago, and I stuck with it because it's a good way to learn about people and to keep myself humble, because one day I'm going to "make it," and I want to keep it real; I don't want to forget where I came from and who helped me along the way, whether the person was in a privileged position or the lowest one. People's value does not come from what they do but who they are. I've met amazing, smart people who barely made it through high school, and have interacted with dim-witted jerks who have achieved everything our society values.
If the virus had never happened, I'd still be working at one of the lowest-level jobs I've done in recent times. It was at a fitness center in a university, and the reason why I did it was because I spent many hours in front of a computer challenging my mind or meeting tight deadlines, and I wanted to do something mindless and more physical, where I would never sit. It was probably the least important job in the whole place, and I was one of only a few non-students doing it. When I first applied, I felt sort of weird about it because I'd been going there for a few years as a member, and I wondered if I was perhaps affecting my reputation or worth, whatever that means. But then I thought who cares, I'll do it. I had to do something that had nothing to do with computers or words or audio or pressure, and I liked going there, especially very early in the morning. I'd get there before the doors opened, write in my fake blog or work on my novel, and then I'd walk in and clean, organize weights, and give people towels. I thought it would just be for a couple months in the summer when a lot of the students were gone and the place needed extra help, but I stayed on for almost two years, until the virus closed places and limited our activities.
What was interesting was that while I first felt self-conscious because I was doing that job and a lot of the people coming in were academics or accomplished community members, I eventually didn't care and just did my job. I eventually met some of the regulars, and found out that some of them knew people I knew, and they were decent people. Most people had no idea what I did outside of that place, and I didn't feel judged or looked down-upon by most of them. I was impressed that before they even knew about my experience, etc., they were decent people who liked all kinds of people, and didn't elevate certain types above others. That's how it should be.
One day, someone I'd often played tennis with at that center was surprised to see me working there, and I could almost seem them wincing. They're the type of person who associates with others like them, financially and culturally, and probably no one they knew would play tennis with a certain strata of people while having a job that included pushing loads of towels into an industrial washing machine. For a second I felt sort of ashamed, but then I thought hey, at least I'm doing something that takes me out of my Gold Coast existence.
I think life is an adventure, and if we limit ourselves to what we "should" do, we're missing out on seeing how a lot of the world lives. But unfortunately, some people aren't so open or understanding.
My longstanding habit of doing jobs that are on different parts of the skillset/socially acceptable spectrum is not always understood or appreciated by others I work with. And it is when I experience such friction that I wish I would have explicitly told people what I have actually accomplished, and what I can do. While my bosses at the recreation center were absolutely fantastic (another reason why I didn't want to quit) and did not judge me on my desire to do something that is way below my ability level, other folks in other situations have maligned me and have treated me as "the help"--I have written about that when referring to broadcasters' attitudes,
but it can apply anywhere, where higher level people treat lower level people with disdain. As I've stated before
, I made the mistake of not talking about my writing experience at a gig I'd just started, which I'm pretty sure tarnished my reputation. I should have told the better paid, more senior worker exactly what I'd done, but because their question was laced with judgement and scorn, I chose not to reveal my qualifications, as if to not give them the satisfaction of knowing who I really was.
And that's another habit I've developed over the years. Perhaps because I went through a lot of rejection and failure, I learned to not reveal much, then over-deliver or surprise people, or just not say much because there's no point in trying to "prove" myself. But when those people are not simpatico or are quick to judge and nitpick, then it can create a horrible experience to the point that I want to retreat. Sometimes if someone is being unreasonable, I will say that what I'm doing is not easy, and not a lot of people can do it as well as I can, or say that I have a lot of experience and don't want to be treated badly. A couple smart, self-aware people have apologized and changed their approach so that I wouldn't quit, but others have just plowed ahead and have been high maintenance and at times abusive.
Being underestimated because I haven't boasted about my accomplishments and talents, in addition to not mentioning superior people whose admiration and endorsements I pretty much have for life, has backfired at times, because petty people have formed opinions that they feel justify substandard treatment. On some occasions, they've been dumbfounded to discover that I can actually do more than they assumed, and have actually changed. In one organization, some people pretty much ignored me until I did some presentations and they saw that I actually knew more than they'd assumed, and had done more varied jobs than they had, which helped my reputation. In another place, one person barely acknowledged me for a while until...I don't know what happened, but suddenly they were complimenting me and gave me a reference. In that case, my modesty paid off, but other times it has not, and I continue to be misunderstood and maligned, which really has made me wonder if some pursuits are worth it.
But thanks to those who've given me a chance, despite not knowing the extent of my experience, and even my real age (since many folks think I'm younger than I actually am).
Author : Margaret Larkin
I've been wanting to write this post for a while, but I didn't want to sound like I was trying to score points with anyone. But I figure since I'll be staying at home for a while (when not going to work or appointments or the gym--all places that are clean and where masks and social distancing are required), I might as well write about the topics that piled up while I was busy interacting more with the world.
I've been teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to adults at Daley College (one of the City Colleges of Chicago) on Chicago's southwest side for 13 years (and it will be 14 in January if I get another class to teach next semester), and overall, it's been a good experience. I won't get into details about the issues there, and if you know me offline, you've heard some of the "interesting" stories about that place. Let's just say it's not the most stable, well-run organization around, thus my appreciation of it has nothing to do with how it's set up. And it's not even located in such a stellar area, nor are the buildings that clean. For instance, I used to teach in dilapidated, small buildings that I think were originally built to be temporary, where mice sometimes roamed (and one turned up dead), the air wasn't fresh, and if there was air conditioning, it took over an hour to activate. Then I moved into the main building, where someone told me garbage still remains (I haven't been to the school, or the South Side, since March).
I've been teaching online, which isn't as enjoyable as in-person, but is still a positive experience. First of all, the students are wonderful. Most of them are Spanish-speaking (I don't speak Spanish though I love it and translated Spanish into English for some years, including when I started this blog), and others come from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. In 13 years I have rarely had any issues with students; they are so nice and interesting, work hard, and are appreciative of what they and their kids have been able to do here (which is a subject for another post: what I've learned ambition really is).
My coworkers are also generally cool. Of course, not everyone is awesome, but no place is perfect. But what sets apart Daley from other places I've worked is that I can always find someone to talk to if I'm having issues, or if I just want to chat. In fact, when I first started working there, I was working in a toxic place (which would be a great candidate for Robert Sutton's excellent, must-read book, The Asshole Survival Guide [whose advice I wish I'd followed years ago]), and once a week, I got a chance to work with friendly people instead of mean ones. I would tell some of my work buddies what I was experiencing during the week, and they couldn't believe it, and shared my astonishment that there are places tolerate such behavior. And while other workplaces might have people who try to backstab or say mean things about each other, or falsely accuse others, I haven't experienced that in all the years I've been at Daley. Yes, people have made disparaging comments, but in general, I don't feel like I have to walk on eggshells or walk around avoiding landmines.
One of the many reasons why I like teaching immigrant adults is because of the interesting experiences they have. They have gone through a lot to come to this country, and they have a great work ethic. What's inspiring is how they always find a way to get things done, find work, and help their kids succeed. One time I was talking about an area of the South Side that is fine on the eastern side of a north-south street, but is pretty dangerous west of that street. I thought the students would think of avoiding that area, but a student said that they had sold ice cream in that western area and generated more sales. What they discovered is that all kinds of people in that area, including the gangbangers and their families, like ice cream, have parties, and want to eat something tasty after they smoke certain substances. Another student showed us where they work in an even more dangerous area of the South Side (I'm not being specific because I don't want to malign any South Side neighborhoods, nor perpetuate the already-negative stereotypes of the South Side), and said they wait for drug deals to clear out before they get into their car to drive west to the southwest suburb where they live.
Basically, some students do jobs or live and work in areas that many people wouldn't want to be, and their perseverance is inspiring. Also, since I don't live on the South Side (never have, and probably never will), I get to find out things about the area that are not covered in the media or elsewhere. And it's not just positive stories that are overlooked but negative ones, too, such as why the virus has probably spread in the area where Daley is located (right now, the most cases are on the southwest side of Chicago).
It's also interesting to find out where the students come from. I've learned a lot about other countries, and I've also learned about students' lifestyles. At one point, after noticing that the students have a great work ethic, I asked them if they helped out around their homes, or what they did as kids in addition to going to school. Most of them grew up doing chores and odd jobs, including helping their elderly relatives. Because they grew up working in some way, that lifestyle and attitude have helped them as adults, which explains why they find ways to thrive rather than sit around and complain. They see and seek out opportunities that others might not see or care about, and I never get tired of hearing about what they're doing. It shows me that anything is possible, even when it seems like there aren't many options.
Because the economy and educational situation are not stable or predictable, I have no idea if I will continue to teach adults ESL, and in the past, I sort of didn't care (I have like four or five other jobs, depending on what is available). There were times when I would drive up South Pulaski late at night to go to the expressway to get home, very tired, wondering why I was going all that way to teach at a dusty school in a gray neighborhood. Then a student, or my supervisor, would tell me that I'm doing a good job, and some students would tell me that I'm a nice person or that they like my class. Last week, some students said they think I'm a good teacher. When comparing that feedback with the little or no feedback I get at other jobs, it's really appreciated, which helps to motivate me. A lot of times I'm just getting work done and have no idea what people think, other than they're glad I'm meeting deadlines or showing up to get the job done. Approval and recognition can go a long way, especially in an increasingly isolating world.
And finally (I think I've been able to remember all the points I wanted to make), I don't have to fake introversion at all. As I've said before on this blog, I am not introverted but have had to fake it for years because it's the best way to integrate and survive the introverted world. When I walk into the school after a week of staying silent or subdued, it's great to chat with the fantastic security guards, then speak loudly and openly with some of my coworkers. Then I see the students, who are so nice, and I end up having a great day. It's basically an experience of belonging and freedom, which equals fun. Author : Margaret Larkin
Roger Badesch, who I interviewed almost a decade ago for my podcast (when WGN Radio was still in the Tribune Tower), has written a really good autobiography called The Unplanned Life that is descriptive and interesting, and really got me choked up towards the end; I'm still thinking about how his busy life has included incredible challenges, including his cancer and his wife's health issues as well. He's worked in media, communications, and education, and taught in one of the toughest areas of Chicago, where he obviously made a huge impact, despite difficult circumstances and unfair workplace politics (and that was after he'd already worked in a toxic company and other drama-filled schools). Below is an interview I did with him about writing, and he elaborates about the experiences he described in his book:
I had a lot of difficulty with motivation. As I mentioned in the beginning of the book, I never thought my story was interesting enough to tell, let alone write in book form. I?m no one special. My only claim to any sort of recognition is that I?m on the radio. I still feel that without that, my story, like so many million other life stories, would go untold.
- How did you get the book done?
Everyone has a different motivation. Given my belief that I was on a fool?s mission trying to write the book, my motivation had to exist in near perfect?no interruptions, no computer issues, no guilt that I had more important things to do. It was a serious struggle for me. Normally I only found those conditions right one or two days a week for only about three or four hours a day.
And it became more difficult to finish sooner than later when I?d run into an issue with memory. Often I remembered the incident but I couldn?t verify the situation or condition or even the time of day.
For example, I spent several days at the Evanston Library looking through old issues of the Evanston Review from the early 60s trying to find mention of the accident where I was hit by a VW bus on Asbury. The memory of the accident is still so vividly etched in my mind but I wanted to be accurate on the date and time to give it context?and to fill in those bits of memory lacking in my recollection of the event.
I never did find the information as those issues of the Review were not on microfiche or easily searchable. I?d already gone to the Evanston Police to ask, but they said records from back then don?t exist.
Much of what I cut was easy to do?a lengthy detailed description of every inch of our home in Evanston being one.
- How did you figure out what to cut from the original manuscript?
Plus, now that the book was finished, I felt I now had a focus for the book?it wasn?t about me. It?s about a regular person who has gone through things everyone else has gone through.
The only difference, as I?ve mentioned, is that I?m on a pretty big radio station and more people know of me than they would some regular, everyday guy from Chicago.
That put the purpose of the book in perspective for me. So anything in the first draft that didn?t enhance that feeling, that emotion, that experience, had to go.
Putting my Facebook posts in book form was my original idea after I was approached to write my book.
- Why did you decide to include Facebook posts instead of just writing a narrative?
I?ve used Facebook over the years to write lengthy expressions of my feelings and experiences and I felt I?d already written a book.
But when I had to actually sit down and start putting a book together, I felt that much of the context for those posts was missing. Plus, my publisher encouraged me to tell a fuller story than what I?d hinted at with those Facebook posts.
That?s why you see so many of them starting in the teaching chapter. I didn?t join Facebook until about 2009 and didn?t start posting on Facebook recollections of my earlier life until much later.
Good question. Not really intentional. Again, for much of the first part of the book, I still lacked focus of the overarching purpose of the book.
- I noticed that your writing style for much of the book is factual (recounting facts) more than reflecting or giving an assessment of the experiences; was that intentional?
I felt that the publisher wanted me to write about what I?d done in life??you?ve had a very interesting life? is something he said and that I?ve heard from others over the years.
Again, I wasn?t convinced that it was anything more than interesting conversation. But then I went back and read the comments to many of my Facebook posts, especially those from when I was going through my cancer. And I think the tone of the book hits its peak in that section?I?d started to come in touch with my humanity, my purpose in life when I became a teacher.
That period of time found me suddenly learning more about myself than any other time of my life. I was using so much more of my experiences and thoughts about life with my students than I had in any other job.
I?m not sure if I adequately conveyed in the earlier chapters about how alone I felt growing up because I feel I embraced my ?aloneness,? I accepted it, and learned how to live within it.
So, opening myself up to examination and judgement as a teacher as I tried to motivate my students was a huge moment in my growth as an individual. I think that?s why you notice a shift in tone in the book.I think that many more people than we think have grown up "alone." There?s a distinction between growing up alone and feeling lonely.
In my case, as the youngest, with both parents working, with my brother being six years older than me, I always felt left to my own devices. Thinking about it now, all three of the kids were pretty much left "alone"?but not in a bad way.
Both of our parents worked after we moved to Evanston. To make sure the kids could carry on without constant supervision, we were taught (read: made to do) how to do everyday things: cook, clean, sew, yard work, fix things, and so on. I think (without any scientific evidence at all) that most of the "boomer" generation went through this?our parents wanted us to be able to be self-sufficient in order to better make our way in the world.
But I think being the youngest and with few friends, I felt more comfortable being alone?reading, hitting rocks in the alley with my White Sox baseball bat, skating at the neighborhood outdoor ice rink by myself instead of joining neighborhood kids in a hockey game, going to movies by myself instead of meeting up with friends. It was kind of a conscious choice as opposed to circumstances.
Those times when I was in groups I felt awkward, lacked self-confidence?to be able to carry on a conversation, share similar likes and dislikes, dance (if there was a dance party), speak my mind.
I think that for many young people those feelings exist as they make their way through life. But their feelings of "alone" may be triggered by other circumstances than what I experienced. Maybe my having gone through such feelings made me more empathetic to students I felt were going through similar things. While I had to teach an approved curriculum, I found it more important to make sure the student was in the right frame of mind to want to learn.
Oh, I?m not one to give advice on writing. Seriously. I can give advice on writing a news report for radio. But for writing a book?I?m still clueless. Honestly.
- What's your writing advice?
I know I can write, and I have a bunch of ideas. I have a couple of stories from several decades ago that I started, but I?ve lacked the confidence to complete them. Maybe in a few years, if I?m still alive, I?ll feel like I?m in a place in my life where I CAN just sit down anytime, anyplace and just write without self-judgement.
Probably several reasons?most of which never got analyzed. The main reason I think was not being able to read long passages because I probably needed glasses early on. I kept falling asleep from what was later diagnosed as eye strain. And, to be honest, not everything interested me in school. I think, without understanding it, I learned that I wasn?t going to need to use a lot of what was being taught. I tried to learn what I needed to learn in order to pass. And I had ?test-phobia??probably from a fear of being judged, being compared to my older brother, who was brilliant. I wasn?t a good test-taker.
- Why weren't you a good student?
It took me a long time to understand my father. He was a very strong-willed person, even as a boy, and that carried through his war years and afterwards. He was always in charge and required everyone to do their part. It wasn?t until after I got married that I realized I was the same way?like father, like son? I think it was more of me emotionally pulling away from him, to search for and set my own course, that caused much of the difficulties between us over the years. But when I became a teacher and, even more so, when I got the job at WGN Radio, I sensed an opening up on his part and a sense of pride that he allowed to show publicly. Plus, I think that he saw my brother, Rick, in me when I went to work at the radio station?something Rick really loved doing at SIU [Southern Illinois University] before he was killed.
- Why did you feel like your dad didn't respect you?
- Sounds like you went with the flow in your life, in terms of career, and it worked out. Did you "plan" to go about work that way, or did you have professional goals?
Honestly, I didn?t have a plan at all. There were things I wanted to do?kind of like a bucket list?but it changed with the wind. It would even change day to day sometimes. Often I?d get a feeling at a job that either I didn?t have anything else to prove, or to make better, or that the winds of change were coming through and it was time to move on. Mix into that was my commitment to my family which changed the longer we were married. At first I felt I had to be a workaholic, again taking after my dad, I guess. But as our relationship and family grew, my views of family and personal life changed, so, often, my jobs changed. Unfortunately, since graduating college I?ve never had a job where you clock in and out and don?t take the job home with you. The majority of my responsibilities at these jobs were middle-management requiring outside hours of supervision or preparation?and that cut into family time.
There were a few gaps, one that had us literally going without for weeks at a time because we had no money until the first of the month?this was the period between leaving Gloria Jean?s and going back to school. I had started my own public relations company and only had a couple of clients. But I was pretty much a stay-at-home dad at that point. I remember having to run over to drop stuff off for a client one night and had both kids with me as Bridget was working nights. I asked the doorman of the building to watch the kids while I ran in. He did, and the kids were fine. I think maybe they were 11 and 1. It was very stressful during that time. But, for the most part, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time?might even call it dumb luck. I?ll also add to that the following: having a good reputation and knowing the right people at the right time.
- How did you get all those jobs? Seems like you went from one thing to another easily (eventually).
I never knew of any corruption at City Hall. I was too involved in doing my job and trying to serve the public. I know that sounds ?pie-in-the-sky,? but I actually believed that. There were a lot of people like me working for the city government trying to do their jobs and provide for their families, AND do good for the public. It?s the somewhat jaded reporter in me (and the political science minor college student) who tries to ?follow the money? and has come to the belief that governments always seem to have more money than they know what to do with but always seem to be broke. Makes me go ?hunh?? And I?m not sure about CPS and corruption, though there are more than enough news stories about such things.
- Was there corruption in the City of Chicago departments when you worked there? Sounds like CPS (Chicago Public Schools) was more corrupt than the mayor's office.
One of my jobs teaching Radio-TV at Vocational [Chicago Vocational Career Academy] (as was the job of all vocational teachers throughout the system) was to put together a shopping list of equipment we needed each year. The funds for equipment came from the federal government jobs training programs. We had to use the ?approved? CPS vendors unless what we wanted was only available through a sole source vendor. You?ve heard stories about things like a $1,000 screw that the military buys? I had to deal with the same thing with the approved vendors. But instead of playing their game, I was like Captain Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru exercise?I figured legal ways around the requirements and was able to get a ?bigger bang for the buck? in equipment and other needs in building the best equipped Radio-TV program in the system.
I think every ?leader,? be it local, national, or internationally, has a small group of friends or family that helps the leader with advice and maybe even helping to ?move mountains.? This small group stays behind the scenes, usually out of the public view, and is often not elected officials, though they do get in the mix at times. That?s a kitchen cabinet?named so, I imagine, for their private meetings at someone?s home sitting around a kitchen table eating, having drinks, whatever. When Mayor Washington was in office, I?d read news stories or watch the TV news and sometimes read about or see pictures or video of some of the members of his ?kitchen cabinet.? The names escape me now, but I do remember that I recognized about half of those sitting in the front room the night I put together the stereo system as being among the ?kitchen cabinet.?
- What was Mayor Washington's "kitchen cabinet;" what does that mean?
Yeah, I?ve noticed that too over the years. I think it was because I was so focused on doing the best job I could, doing the right thing, that I was able to excuse the atmosphere and work for little successes. But over the years, in nearly each job I left, the ?atmosphere? became too overwhelming?affecting my job performance, my family life, my mental health. I still haven?t analyzed myself for an answer to that character trait.
- Why did you still keep working for a toxic company and toxic school? Or was that common in your career?
Now you?ve hit a really deep subject. I continue to try to analyze how I reacted to that phase (which I still consider myself to be in). Bridget comes from a fairly religious Irish Catholic family. One of her close aunts was a nun (and a very cool person!). So, though she hasn?t gone to church in quite a while, the beliefs and ways to live one?s life are firmly ingrained in her. And my upbringing reflects that too, as I wrote at the beginning of the book, about knowing the difference between right and wrong.
- Did having cancer make you believe in God more? How have you stayed strong, including your wife's ordeal? She sounds incredible.
No, having cancer didn?t make me believe in God any more than I already did. I believed, had to believe, in my doctors and the love of my family. Some would say that God was working through the doctors and the love I felt is God?s love?I?m okay with that. But that?s not what I was thinking. I spent a lot of time asking tons of questions, doing lots of research, and trying to ?get my head straight? for the treatment and life after. I?ll be honest, I was scared. Scared I wouldn?t see anyone anymore. Scared that things would end on the operating table. But I didn?t, couldn?t, let it overwhelm me.
It was in my nature to stay positive. It may have harkened back to my childhood where I was pretty much left to my own devices. I had to learn how to take care of myself to survive. I learned early on how to analyze situations and figure out the best course of action?I think that mindset really helped me through the treatment, surgery, and now afterwards. Did I, do I, like it?? He?ll no! Who in their right mind would like to go through that?to go through what I have to now, with an ostomy system that needs replacement every four days. But, just like all those jobs where I?ve had to get used to the ?normal,? I?ve gotten used to this normal.
You?ve asked about Bridget?we?re a good team because I like taking care of people and she likes being taken care of. But don?t let that fool you?she?s got that country can-do spirit in her (she was born in rural Illinois and spent summers on family farms). And she?s always looking on the bright side of life. I know it sounds ?hokey,? but it?s true. Both of us keep plugging through?helping each other as best we can and accepting help from our family and friends when needed.
Well, on certain days going through chemo, I had to be really careful about what I ate. Early on, I didn?t fully understand how the drugs would affect me physiologically, but I learned quickly. And when I could ?stomach? richer foods, it was out of comfort that I?d eat them?comfort foods that would cheer me up, make me feel good. Even Jello.
- How could you eat all the rich food when you were battling illness?
Unfortunately, I don?t eat well naturally?very few, if any, vegetables and fruits?mainly what would be classified as junk food. Over the years our bodies change, and some foods we couldn?t stand as kids we eat now, and some foods we couldn?t get enough of as kids we can?t eat now. For example, I grew up on hamburgers?any chance I had I?d eat a hamburger. If not hamburgers then steaks?sirloin, skirt, tenderloin, whatever. Nowadays, my body tells me it doesn?t handle meat very well. When I splurge on skirt steak (a comfort food), I do it fully, accepting the consequences. Being raised on rich Jewish cooking as a kid, I now welcome them as comfort food?so while I was recovering each week from a chemo treatment, a bowl of chicken soup with kreplach or a matzo ball was very comforting, filling and, shall we say, non-invasive.Author : Margaret Larkin
Note: I was contacted by someone from the translation agency Tomedes Ltd to see if I'd be interested in posting an article of theirs. We went back and forth for several months, and I was either too busy or not interested in what they had to offer (I wasn't being snobby, but it seemed like some articles weren't a good fit). But when they sent me this article by their CEO and founder, Ofer Tirosh, "How I Turned My Language Skills Into a Business and Career," I figured it would probably be interesting for language fans and translators. I haven't posted something by a guest in several years...hope you enjoy it!
I see a lot of people online learning about how to do translation or discussing ways to improve their translation skills. 17 years ago, I wanted to improve my freelance translation skills in order to take my career to the next level. Since then, I?ve gone from working as a freelance translator to running a translation agency that serves clients around the globe. I?m hoping that my story ? of how I turned my language skills into a business ? will inspire others to do the same.
Moving from Freelance Translation to Running a Business
Nearly two decades ago, I found myself with no way to make a living. Remembering this seems especially poignant right now, given the vast economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
My personal situation meant that I needed to find a way to make money. I?ve always loved languages, so they were my focus in terms of building a career.
I realized quickly that freelance translation was the career for me. That meant I was faced with a choice ? to be the best freelancer that I could be or take my language skills and values and try and turn them into a business. I opted for the latter.
It?s funny to look back now, having since published the ultimate guide to freelance translation in order to help others on their journey, and remember how much I still had to learn when I first established Tomedes as a translation agency. Even now, I?m still learning.
My focus was on three areas: outstanding translation, customer care, and embracing tech. With these in mind, I began to build my translation business.
How to Build a Translation Business
To build a translation business, you need clients and you need translators. Simple, right? Well, not quite?
How many translators are there in the world? According to the Translators Association of China, there are around 640,000. Around one in four of them works as a freelance translator. As such, there?s plenty of freelance translation expertise available to those looking to establish a business.
The problem is that you have to make sure that you find the right network of freelance translators ? not just translators who work with the languages your clients need, but those with relevant subject matter knowledge as well.
I put a LOT of time and effort into building up that initial network of translators. Not only did I need to find suitably experienced linguists, I also needed them to share my belief in delivering outstanding customer care. My initial induction process was basic, to say the least, but it did lay out the principles of service delivery that Tomedes? clients could expect, which we still remain true to.
Finding Translation Clients
Of course, building a network of translators was only half the work. I also had to find clients.
My marketing efforts were intensive. I reached out to potential clients in every way imaginable. It was hard work, it was time-consuming, and it completely paid off. I managed to bring in enough work to show my new network of freelance translation professionals that I was serious.
Naturally, there was some scrambling to ensure I had the right expertise in the right dialect back in those early days. Thankfully, the advent of social media worked in my favor. Just as I was discovering how important it was to maintain connections around the world when you move from being a freelance translator to running a translation company, technology was making it easier than ever to connect over the internet.
I embraced the evolving tech. I still do, to this day. I don?t believe that technology can replace the skill and nuance that human translators deliver, but it can certainly help them translate more efficiently.
Running a Translation Company Isn?t Just About Translation
Over the years, I learned just how much admin is involved in running a business. All those tasks that you don?t receive direct payment for ? recruiting translators, marketing, finances?the list goes on and on. It?s a reality of running a successful enterprise.
That meant I had to put structures in place to deliver the company management while still keeping translation costs reasonable. I took a remote-first approach, meaning that staff could work from home, keeping office costs to a minimum. It allowed me to run a slick, lean organization.
Technology helped here too. From the increasing use of email to faster broadband, I used everything available to help grow my business. I was an early Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) adopter, meaning that I could connect with clients and translators far more easily. I read recently that VoIP business lines in the US shot up from 6.2 million in 2010 to 41.6 million in 2018. Embracing this kind of technology definitely helped me grow my business faster and more smoothly.
My advice for anyone considering going from freelance translator to business leader: embrace technology, but also focus on customer care no matter how big your empire grows. Plenty of people provide freelance translation. In my opinion, it?s those who really empathize with their clients? needs and go out of their way to meet those needs who will be most likely to turn their passion for language into a successful business. Author : Margaret Larkin
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
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 LarkinWhen 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.
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 :(
|A great French textbook from the 1980s.|
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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