Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Character flaws: it's not you, it's totally me, Wrap up

This marks the end of my 'Character flaws' posts for two reasons. First, I was attempting to use this series as a Lenten-like reflection exercise and Lent is nearly over. Second, if I kept coming up with more flaws (and I'm quite confident I could), you, dear reader, might start to wonder if there's anything likable about me. Or, you might worry that I was suffering from an unhealthy degree of self-loathing (which is also possible).

So, what have I learned?

I can be unsociable and taciturn (aka a Darcy-Pants); I'm jealous; I can be quick to anger and I'm grumpy; I'm a scaredy cat; I'm a worrier; and I don't know many things.

I don't think any of these flaws were a surprise, I was aware of many of these long ago. The more important question is, have I managed to do anything about them and well, I'm not sure. I've been trying to be nicer to random people. To at least smile and nod if someone holds the elevator door open for me, and to say 'thanks' if I get my vocal cords warmed up in time. Hey, baby steps, right?

Also, Andrew recently complimented me for saying exactly the right thing, at exactly the right time to give the impression that I wasn't angry over something (which I wasn't). I can't confidently say that this conversational success with the result of diligent study, but maybe it had something to do with being at ease (i.e. not jealous or angry or worried) with the situation?

It's only been a few weeks, and this will definitely be a work of a life time. As I commented in my last post (The death of 1000 paper cuts) no one can be perfect and that's not my aim, but I want to be better than what I am now. Better for my own benefit, better for my husband, better for my friends, and better for any children I might bare in the future.

I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God's business.

~Michael J. Fox


Saturday, March 23, 2013

The death of 1000 paper cuts

Is that the proper saying? Or maybe it's just death by 1000 cuts (not specifically paper ones)?

Andrew asked me recently if that's how I was feeling, and my response was: 'No, maybe just 50...okay maybe just like, 8.'

The point is, I feel like although nothing monstrously terrible has happened to me (and therefore I have no real reason to complain), I have several small stessors that are pushing the camel's back awfully far.

We are in a transition year, Andrew and me. Andrew defended his PhD thesis (finally, I'm married to a doctor!) and handed it in for final approval yesterday. Now we can stop living like students (although extremely well off students...I mean I've been gainfully employed for 7 years) and we can find a more permanent place to live, but before we do that we have to pick a country, province and city to live in. And before we can do that, Andrew has to get a job.

Andrew's feeling a lot of stress right now. You might have thought that much of it would have lifted after the defense, except what we do next and where we'll live depends on him. Theoretically I could stay in my position for the rest of my working life, but that's not ideal for several reasons, among them being there's no job for Andrew at the university.

I'm not going to enumerate all the cuts here, that wouldn't be fun for me, or for you the reader. There are others, of course. Simple ones like the insistence of winter to keep happening, more complex ones for me like maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and the never ending fight to keep motivated to write and query agents and publishers.

I guess the point is, no one's life is perfect.

Perhaps it's a reminder that everyone needs now and again. Not only is no one's life perfect, but perfection isn't possible. And what's wrong with having a 'pretty good' life, or the 'best possible life I can achieve' anyway? Sometimes it seems like everyone is so hung up on obtaining perfection, they forget to just enjoy life for what it is.

I don't know, maybe I'm not making any sense. What do I know, I've never studied philosophy or divinity, or some other deep-thinking major. I'm a librarian. A messy, frustrated, stressed-out, and yet incredibly lucky, loved, and talented librarian.

So, I guess that's good enough.

In the meantime I'll keep dabbing salt water on my paper cuts.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Character flaws: it's not you, it's totally me, Part 6

I say, 'I don't know,' a lot.

Or at least more often than what I'm comfortable with; or possibly often enough that some people might start to wonder, 'Well, what does she know?'

I think this has to do with my introverted nature. I don't like being put on the spot to offer up an opinion. Chances are, I do have at least some thoughts on the matter at hand, but being asked to offer them all of a sudden is a challenge if I haven't had time to arrange them.

For example, often at work meetings (like say, at a journal club) I'll often think about what I want to say well in advance of actually speaking up. I'll run over my point two or three times in my head to figure out the wording before I talk. Or at least this is true in the case of where an opinion/evaluation is required, simple fact-like questions I don't have a problem answering on the spot. As stated before, afterwards I often worry if I sounded like a complete idiot during a meeting because I took a chance to speak and perhaps rambled more than I meant, or didn't manage to make my point clearly.

Knowing I was going to write about this flaw, I've been trying to give a more decided opinion when asked for my thoughts as of late. I'm not sure how well I've succeeded thus far, but I'm trying.

And this isn't to say I can't never know the answer--the last thing I want to appear as is an insufferable know-it-all (assuming people don't already look at me that way). This is just a reminder to not allow myself to fall back on the crutch of saying 'I don't know,' all the time instead of giving my thoughts. Appearing insufferably reserved won't win me any popularity contests either.

'True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.'


Saturday, March 16, 2013

I'm 32 years old and I don't know what I want to do when I grow up, Part 5

This one's about pipe dreams.

Things I (and sometimes Andrew) wish we could do if we had the time or money.

First, there's the pretty obvious: I want to be a writer. Okay, I guess in practice I AM a writer. I write almost everyday, but I want to be a writer in credentials (does that make sense?) too. I would like to see books I've written available in print or e-book. I would like to earn enough income from them that I don't have to work full-time (that might be a tall order as advances and royalties aren't large). It might be nice to receive the occasional piece of fan mail.

Then there's the baking-related pipe dreams.

Opening my own bakery. In some ways, baking for a living is extremely appealing. I'm a morning person anyway, and I'd have a reason to make all those deserts I see in my (now defunct) Google Reader subscriptions. As I said last week, I'm particularly proud of my breads.

A variant on the bakery I've been musing about recently is the Pain a la Panier idea I threw out several weeks ago. Instead of actually having a shop I could sell my product in a street vendor set up--out of the paniers of my bicycle. Of course, in Edmonton I'd have a somewhat limited selling season, and Andrew doesn't think I could carry enough on my bike to make any money.

Whether I could make any money from a bakery business at all is questionable. I don't have much in the way of business sense; I don't have any notion as to how much I could sell my stuff for; and everyone thinks they're a baker these days. Really, have you been to a local farmer's market recently? How many stalls of baked goods are there? Lots? Yeah. How many of them do I think produce goods better than my own? None.

Finally, there's the B&B pipe dream.

This is where Andrew comes in. This is more of a retirement idea, one that is only half-joke when we talk about it. We'd love to find a for-sale B&B in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region and take it over. As a retirement gig, we'd only run it from March to October, then travel for the winter. Again, I could bake to my heart's content for the second part of the 'B' and we've even toyed with the idea that we could offer a dinner option on certain nights of the week. There's something very appealing about this, especially if we could take over an already existing B&B. We'll see, maybe one day.

"For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."
~Steve Jobs


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Character flaws: It's not you, it's totally me, Part 5

I'm a worrier.

Big time.

I worry about everything. About being late, about why other people (mainly Andrew) are late, how I'm perceived, how my actions are perceived, where the next phase of our life is going to take us, and once we get there will we like it, etc., etc.

And I know, worrying doesn't accomplish anything, except perhaps to make me more exhausted, but there it is.

So, what am I supposed to do about this? Does my recurrent theme of practicing help here? I suppose on some levels if I practice greater patience, I might worry less about punctuality. Also, if I practice making conversations with people and being friendlier, I might be less apt to worry about how others perceive me. Or I might instead worry about whether or not what I said in my efforts to be conversational came across as stupid or haughty.

It would seem that many of my faults are intertwined with one another. Perhaps this has always painfully obvious to everyone else (not necessarily that only my faults are interrelated, rather that everyone's are), but it's only now becoming apparent to me.

Let me be clear as I'm approaching the end of my Character Flaws posts, I'm not trying to make myself a perfect (LeeLoo Dallas-type) being. I'm only trying to recognize where I have room for improvement. With the possibility of children looming closer on our horizon, I would like to present the best person I can be to them, rather than a grouchy, bitchy woman, who's dissatisfied with her life choices.

If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.
~Dalai Lama XIV


Saturday, March 9, 2013

I'm 32 years old and I don't know what I want to do when I grow up, Part 4

The next logical step in my discussion of jobs might be to take a look at what I like to do/what I'm good at. Although to be honest, I don't know how this will transpire into ideas of what I want to do when I grow up. At any rate, here it goes. Maybe something will come to me as I type...

Kitchen related activities: cooking and baking pretty much any thing. I love putting together complicated meals, trying new cooking techniques, new ethnic styles of cuisine, everything. I also love to bake bread, cakes, muffins, squares, whatever. I'm particularly proud of my breads. I've been doing sourdough for several years and have got my method down pat. I tried a new rye bread this past weekend--divine!

Writing, of course. I'm mostly a long story writer, although I've done a few short stories in the past. Obviously I blog and tweet, although I haven't figured out a good niche to focus on. My biggest downfall is that my command of grammar can be questionable, and my editor-eyes are only half-powered when I'm looking over my own work.

Knitting and the occasional craft project. Most of my non-writing creative energy gets focused into knitting, although I've never felt compelled to create my own patterns. I'm pretty good with complex patterns for sweaters, scarves, mitts, whatever, although I'm pretty new with colour patterns. I don't really sew anymore, although if I had the time and patience it might be nice to get back into.

Aerial skills. So I'm never going to be in Cirque du Soleil (not sure I'd really want to anyway), but I love learning, practicing, and performing on the silks and rope. It's something about the combination of strength, dexterity and grace required that appeals to me; that and I love being twenty feet up in the air and going for a huge slack drop.

Okay, so those are some things I like to do, but what about more bankable skills, things that will help me land a job?

Well...I am the office cake lady. If someone's leaving/there's a special event, I'm often called on to bring something in. Writing and good communication skills are also pretty important for most jobs, but what else?

I know my way around most biomedical databases (Medline, Embase, CENTRAL, CINAHL, etc.), which means if you need literature on a medical topic, I can probably help you out. In more every day terms, I also have pretty good Google-fu. However, don't confuse the term 'Librarian' with 'Search Engine'. My dominant Darcy-Pants gene will probably rear it's head and I will glare at anyone who asks me something for which the most basic Internet search will return appropriate answers.

I'm pretty good with most of the standard citation management software such as Reference Manager, EndNote and RefWorks. I know how to use the various grouping/folder features, make output style filters, and integrate them with Word. However, if there's an actual problem with the software, I can't help you. Also, don't confuse 'Librarian' (at least this one) with 'Tech Support.'

What else? I mean, is this my resume or something? Sure, I can spout off a series of standardize remarks about my critical thinking and analytic skills, ability to work with minimal supervision, my project management skills, etc., but that isn't really the point, is it?

I'm supposed to be reflecting on what I'm good at and what I like to do in order to help me make some job-based decisions, and all I can say thus far is what I like to do (and what I'm reasonably good at) are my hobbies.

So what's the point? What have I learned (Charlie Brown)?

That I, like so many others, would rather live the high-life, have fun, and not work at all.

I do, however, live on planet earth, and am well aware that I can't just have fun all the time without an income to help support Andrew and me.

I think I'm back at square one.

At the end of the semester I had 27 study partners, 8 Mead journals filled with recipes and a D average—so I dropped out. I just figured if I was going to make the world a better place I’d do it with cookies." ~Ana Pascal, Stranger Than Fiction


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Character flaws: It's not you, it's totally me, Part 4

I am quick to irritate/I am impatient.

I'm putting these two together, since I think they're probably inter-related. I also think I'm getting better about both, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. Regardless, I think poor Andrew bares the brunt of both of these failings of mine.

I say quick to irritate rather than quick to anger ('She gets madder quicker than any woman I ever saw' ~Frank Kennedy, Gone With The Wind), as I don't *think* I get out-right mad too often. Although I can't seem to find a good way to differentiate the two emotions except perhaps anger is longer lasting? I'm not sure.

Here's an example:

On Monday Andrew and I went out for our regular run. It's very icy here in Edmonton and I slipped and fell. I've had several falls onto my left knee, which is what happened and my dear hubby, concerned, asked if I wanted to stop and go home (we hadn't even gotten off our block yet). I disdainfully replied 'NO' and 'I'm fine.'

Why was I so annoyed at Andrew asking me if I was okay? Isn't it a normal, thing to do? To be concerned about someone after you witness them fall? The best explanation I can come up with is that I have a strong sense of independence and I rarely ask for help. Even as I child, once I got to a certain age (maybe 12 or so, I don't remember for sure), if I was sick, I would stay home alone and take care of myself.

Still, I shouldn't get irritated.

I think my impatience also leads to irritation. I'm an 'on time' sort of person. If you tell me to be somewhere at a certain time or place, I'll be there at the time, possibly a few minutes early. Similarly, when I say I'm ready to start something, like say dinner, I mean, I'm ready to sit down and eat, NOW. Not in two minutes once you've used the washroom or come to a stopping point in your book.

So now comes the part where I try to offer myself solutions for this behaviour, and I feel like I'm being a broken record on this point: I need to practice. As I said, I'm much better on both these points. I used to be a very sore loser when it came to board and card games. I still don't enjoy losing (who does?), but I think I'm better at taking it as it comes because I've realized Munchkin is just a game (or Settlers, or Euchre, etc.) and doesn't reflect on my success at life.

Sure, I still complain about my bad luck during a game, but I don't throw down my cards, or dice, and get snippy with the other players because I just lost a point/was prevented from killing a monster/was penalized by the robber (you get what I mean if you've played any of the previously mentioned games).

Further, I can employ some of basic strategies such as count to 5 or 10 when someone says/does something that irritates me before I speak. Also, recognizing my bad behaviour and apologizing afterwards probably wouldn't hurt either. Overall, I think I need to try to be more mindful of the feelings of the person I am interacting with and remember they are just as important as mine.

When someone is impatient and says, "I haven't got all day," I always wonder, How can that be? How can you not have all day? ~George Carlin


Friday, March 1, 2013

I'm 32 years old and I don't know what I want to do when I grow up, Part 3

Let me be clear, I don't hate my job.

In fact, I have a pretty decent job, and having had some fairly awful ones, I think I have the authority to know that some of the alternatives are like.

I'm paid well, I have friendly co-workers, no one's trying to stab me in the back, and working at the University has several perks (like a gym, pool, public transit covered between main stops, plus other financial benefits).

So what's the problem?

Well, it's repetitive, cycles through highs and lows (in terms of amount of work to do), and doesn't have a lot of outlets for creativity.

Some of you might still be thinking, so what's the problem?

I find the repetition, the cycles, the lack of creativity stressful and demeaning on my psyche. It makes me tired even when I haven't had a particularly busy day, and zaps my motivation for writing once I get home. I can usually force myself to write, but often not until after I've wasted a chunk of time working myself up to the task. Then I stop earlier than I might like because I just can't press on until bed time.

This wasn't always an issue. Several years ago, when I'd just started my job and I was only an RA, I could get in a full three hours of writing most nights. Now I'm taking nights off every few days it seems and it's not as if I come back feeling more rested.

I totter back and forth on whether or not I need a new job. As I said, it's really not so bad, but it's not really a great fit for me either.

Also, I don't know what would suit me better. A 'real' librarian job, one where I actually work in a library and talked to people? Except having to talk and deal with people all day would probably be just as tiring. I like the idea of doing something in the social media/transmedia arena, except I have no idea how to get into it, especially in Edmonton. Plus I don't have any educational/work background in social media except I'm enthusiastic. And writing isn't a career path one can easily live upon--especially when one's spouse is still a grad student.

Where does this all leave me? No where closer to where I want to be, just as confused and uncertain as a kid graduating high school and heading to university or collage. Maybe that's how everyone feels. Maybe most people pick their job based on what's available, convenient, easy, or not as bad as the alternative, but considering how much time we spend at our jobs, shouldn't we expect more?

Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.
~Drew Carey