Archive for the ‘Random snippets in the life’ Category

Europe trip. Woo!

Much has happened.

I self-published my second book, Ariagne. More on this later.

I made arrangements to ship all of my worldly belongings to Taiwan. I found out, five days before they were going to come and pick my stuff up that the company Air7Seas is super-sketch and that I needed a plan B, stat. Cue unpacking my existing boxes, repacking, and trying to figure out what I really couldn’t live without to bring in my suitcases to Taiwan and storing the rest with my friends. More on that later because I feel like there’s a need for a PSA regarding how shady this company is.

I’m leaving for a month in Europe starting tomorrow. So I’m really excited but I’m also really stressed out because the house is a disaster zone from all of my unpacking/repacking/packing/sorting and I’ll have about 8 days when I get back to really sort things through before I head to Taiwan. Woo.

So. Europe trip.

Because of my health issues, i.e, general lack of energy, loss of stamina, and much puny-tude, I decided that I was going to attempt one-bag traveling.

For those not in the know, the idea of one-bag travel is to put all the things you will need for a trip in a bag that is carry-on size or smaller. It’s all about minimizing, baby. Story of my life right now. Minimizing.

Most people do this because they don’t want to risk losing their luggage and/or they loathe waiting around for their luggage after arrival. And/or they’re backpackers who want to travel light.

I’m probably going to check my bag anyway because I’m flying economy and trying to find enough overhead bin space for even a purse is like begging for alms. But, the idea is that I should be able to manage with a smaller backpack when we’re actually traveling around Europe.

Right now, my friend Iddt and I will be flying from Boston to Barcelona, staying there for a week, then making our way up to Brussels, then Amsterdam, then Copenhagen. There, I will meet up with my mother on the 24th of May and going on a North European cruise with her.

Keeping that in mind, packing for warm and sunny Barcelona and potentially windy/rainy/nippy Northern Europe in one bag was a wee bit challenging. Also, I would be away from home for a full month.

What I ended up packing (I feel like I should add pictures, but that’s effort and I’m not a travel blogger so I guess anyone who cares can ask for them):

Going in the 30 liter bag (15 pounds):

A towel – it’s not microfiber, which I may end up regretting because of the size

Two long sleeved maxi dresses

One short sleeve maxi dress

One long sleeve infinity dress

Swimming goggles and swimsuit


Three pairs of socks/underwear

Two bras

Long knit cardigan

Yoga pants

One t-shirt for sleeping/yoga

Pair of sandals

Toiletries – travel bottle of body wash, shampoo, facial wash, small thing of moisturizer and laundry detergent

One package of my grain drink

Going in my personal items backpack:

My ultrabook – I’m going to be on the ship and probably have some spare time to hopefully write

Assorted charging apparatus and travel power plugs

My kindle – self-explanatory

My nexus — I really debated leaving this at home, but I use Line on it to contact my parents and I play games on it.


My Grayl filtration bottle

Passport / money / etc

A silk sleep sack

Moisturizer for the plane trip, allergy meds, toothbrush, floss and travel toothpaste.

Debating bringing:

A travel hairdryer – I get headaches if I don’t dry my hair fully and I’m not sure all the places will have one. Bulky though.

Anker travel power brick – my Nexus and my Kindle all have pretty good battery lives, so I really might just leave this

My blanket – I often have problems sleeping in new environments because I’m sensitive to scents and texture. It would be a bit of a pain though, so I’m really debating leaving it behind. On the other hand, sleeping poorly for an entire month seems like a recipe for tears.

Ankle boots — I kinda want these because they would be better than my Mary Janes for rain, but they’re bulky, heavy, and they have a slight heel. I know I can walk for hours in them, but do I really want to?

Lastly, I’ll be wearing a sleeveless maxi dress and a long denim jacket for the trip. 

So. We’ll see how this goes. I’m hoping that I’ve packed intelligently enough that I will be able to traverse a range of temperatures from 50F to 80F, from rainy to sunny, without much discomfort.  I will admit to some disgruntlement that about 1/3 of the bag is taken up by the cold weather gear. The 15 pounds is a bit on the heavy side for me, but hopefully it won’t be too much of a problem. The bag is stuffed to the gills, however, so that’s an ix nay on buying anything in Europe. Just as well since I don’t have the budget for it.

I’ll be back with an update when I get back with an assessment of what I regretted bringing. Hopefully it will be nothing!


Some notes on freelancing

Or, why learning to say no is invaluable.

One key suggestion I have is:

Unless you’re starving, do not take on a gig that makes you want to spork out your eyes. For that matter, do not take on a gig if it even makes you sigh into your morning cup of ambition.

I found that unless I actively needed the money to live, if I didn’t like the project, I would procrastinate on starting it. This is bad for many reasons, all of which should be more than clear.

The project would take longer simply because I didn’t like it. Completely aside from whatever procrastination devices I came up with, my brain would work slower and my hands would become clumsier.

Knowing that there is something I need to do and haven’t done is emotionally draining. I can’t enjoy anything that I do like because I have this thing hanging over my head like a bloody axe.

After having done it, I tend to splurge on things I can’t afford. Spend two hours I don’t have reading a book that makes me feel better. Use quite a bit of the freelance money on ordering in delicious food because gods dammit, I deserved it.

It’s just a bad thing all around. Best case scenario, I end up somewhat richer albeit with a fresh load of self-hate. Worst case scenario, I lose some rep points because I took too long with the project, I have that self-hate times two, and I end up blowing the money on retail therapy.

And this is why I’m jacking my rates for doing translations to $150/hr. It’s simply not worth it for me otherwise. I hate translations with a blinding, all consuming passion. It’s like editing, except worse. Ten times as bad. And considering that I think editing is like carving pretty things out of my own femur, that’s saying something.

Depression: The encroaching dark

I’ve been considering posting about this. It’s not exactly the sort of thing that makes for congenial conversation, after all. But, it’s more important than being a fun person to be around. And then again, I’ve always been extremely comfortable telling complete strangers far too much information about myself. It’s like the acronym TMI was designed for me.

I’ve been diagnosed with severe depression. I’ve had symptoms of depression for as long as I have clear memory. I was about eight or nine when I first took a sharp implement in hand and thought about using it on myself and before that, in earlier years, I prayed for God to take my life.

I was formally diagnosed in college. I’m a psychology major — how ironic is that? Actually, I suspect many depressed people go into psychology both intending to do good and because they have this subconscious or not so subconscious thought of self-medicating. Well, let’s just say that didn’t work.

I was initially very resistant to taking medication.

It’s commonly accepted that writers are often depressed, that our creativity is inextricably bound up with the miasma, that it’s almost a badge of honor. I’ll admit to having owned a black t-shirt with dripping red font reading: “Tortured Artist: No art without the angst.” back in college.

So I was both afraid of losing what made me interesting and because I had this idea that I was a worthless piece of shit if I couldn’t pull myself up by my non-existent bootstraps and just get over my depression. It took me about five years to get over my irrational hatred of medication.

In the interests of full disclosure: I’m currently on Wellbutrin. I’ve had therapy on and off for years, finally culminating in 15 sessions at 350/hr with a therapist who first came on to me inappropriately and then pretty much called me irresponsible for wanting to stop therapy and then refused to pass on my medical information and continue my prescription.

Why this level of detail? Because it’s the  circle of life, ahem, interconnected.

My personal experience:

The Wellbutrin is also prescribed for people who have ADD. Which I also have. Not surprising, as depression is co-morbid with ADD and vice versa. Nothing like feeling like an under-achieving failure all the time to boost mood and self-esteem. I’d talk about the female version of ADD and why the public view of ADD is so damaging to women who have it, but that’s another blog post.

The medication always leaves me feeling just a little bit hyped up. By a little, here’s a transcript of my chat convo with my boyfriend the first day I got back on the medication. Skip the blue box if you’re not interested.

I just feel really …wound up.
coiled, about to explode
so…wound up
I feel like I want to bounce all over the place.

I’d stick with it for a while. These must just be the initial side effects

but…i mean, fish oil and vit D were also helping
i dunno
bouncy bouncy bouncy
I feel like every thought in my head is just free-floating and …boucy bouncy bouncy
I’m not going to be any good for anything…

but you got a HELL OF A LOT of writing done on meds before
so I’m guessing that will return eventually

…hopefully…hopefully hopefully
you can stop talking to me anytime
i find myself kinda annoying
but I can’t stop the twitches. and I’m actually typing them out
so I can’t imagine what you think
twitch twitch twitch.

I’m sorry. I don’t find you annoying if that helps. I’m just worried about you.

that helps
it’s okay
my body and meds
it’s like…this crazy whirling dervish dance, except not quite as reasoned as that
no cooking today…
no knives
no flame
no fire fire fire fire fire

What this means is that because it’s a stimulant and I react strongly to any kind of stimulant, I take it right before I sleep so it doesn’t keep me from sleeping later on. Even so, I find myself drifting toward a 2 or 3am bedtime and being forcibly woken at about 8:30am because the amount of stimulant has reached a point where I cannot continue to sleep. As a result, if I’m not careful, I drift toward a state of constant exhaustion since I need about 8 hrs a night to feel functional. The being exhausted and resulting feeling of being drunk means although I’m more productive on the medication because of heightened energy, I’m not actually as productive as I want to be. Inefficiency then threatens to keep me up too late, which in turn perpetuates the cycle.

However, and this is what’s truly important:

I prefer the me who is on anti-depressants. I have more spoons. I am more productive and I actually get things done that I want done.

I have never found a decrease in creativity after being on medication. I would, in fact, argue that I am a better writer than i otherwise would be simply by virtue of being able to write and therefore (hopefully) improve. Also because one is greater than zero. Zero being my output when I’m not on meds.

Editing is easier. It still feels like being drawn, racked, and quartered, but at least I don’t stop because it feels that way.

It’s easier to interact with people. The little voice that tells me I’m not clever, witty, funny, charming enough goes away and leaves me alone. It is easier to brush off confrontations and not have it turn into the mental equivalent of a tornado whipping through all my thoughts and defenses.

I suspect, were I to start querying, it would also make that process not quite as suicide-making.

There is always a price. I pay for being a writer with exhaustion, a racing heart, and the faint bitter taste in my mouth. i consider it worth it and then some. The price isn’t always the same for everyone. For every person who’s had medication stifle their creativity and their lives, there’s at least another person who’s had their lives turned around. And it’s important to remember that you may need to try a couple of different medications before hitting upon the one that provides the most benefit for the least evil. One of my meds gave me narcolepsy and pretty much killed my thought of going back to school for my post-grad. Another one made it so I couldn’t even think about eating. I gave it up after realizing that I wasn’t happy or productive whilst nauseated and starving. Yet another one didn’t do anything except increase my heart rate to an unpleasant degree. It wasn’t until I tried Wellbutrin that I actually had something work.

Being depressed isn’t necessary to being a writer. It’s not necessary to being an interesting person. It’s not necessary, period.




Edits, edits, edits…

It’s been a lovely vacation, but I’ve been getting itchy and antsy of late.

Today will mark the 58th day of no new words written.

Before, there was being in a vacation setting, complete with being in another country in a house not my own. Then, I was dealing with jet lag. Then, there was simply the usual winter hibernation malaise.

However, I’ve moved from feeling well-rested to impatience and irritation. Enough is enough and I’ve decided that I need to push back the sleepy and just get something done.

Perhaps some edits.

Book one has 28 chapters and is now at 61,275 words pre-edits.

If I can get a chapter done each day, then I’ll be ready for a round of beta readers come the end of February. Depending on how fast I can get it back, then I just might be able to push for an April publication date.

We’ll see.

I’ve been reading some Chinese medicine texts lately and I’ve been trying to take some of it to heart.

For example, the idea that winter was meant for rest and recuperation. It is meant for concealment; of cherishing your energy and life-fire, and being careful where you choose to expend your energy.

I’ve thought about it, and I like the idea even if I don’t know how applicable to modern life it is.

Winter as a time of reflection, of laying aside weapons and ambition, and of turning inward rather than outward — it’s a lovely thought, but life moves at light speed, with or without one.

I don’t think most of us have a choice about rising late and waiting until the sun has warmed the land before venturing out. It might very well be better for the mind and body to lay aside thoughts of strife and striving until a more fortuitous time, but in the meantime, who can know what that moment of relaxation can cost in terms of job security?


T-day 2013 reflections

We actually did T-day this year on the Saturday following rather than on the day itself.

I’m not sure I’d do that again, actually, although it was nice to be able to go shopping for things on Friday when all the madness had already died down. We had also ordered pies from Petsi Pies, listed by Travel + Leisure and others as one of the best pies in America, and I think the line was somewhat more manageable on Saturday rather than Thursday. If nothing else, it allowed us to get a bacon and Gruyere pie as well as a sweet potato and pumpkin pie.

I roasted the turkey a la Alton Brown’s directions, and it really was superb. I’ve never been a fan of turkey before this, but I think that this might have made me a convert.

I brined it in a mixture of chicken stock reconstituted from Better than Bouillon, fresh grapefruit juice, onions, garlic, poultry seasoning, S&P and allspice powder. I stuck it in on Thursday and roasted it the day of on a beer can chicken stand. Since I only got an eleven pounder, it fit well on the stand and had enough clearance in the oven. A little bigger and I might have had more difficulty.

Thirty minutes at 500 and another hour and a half at 350 and it was gorgeously browned and well-done. I might actually, for a ten pounder, take it out sooner next time to keep it moister.

Something I actually found out recently is that beer can chicken, despite its proponents, doesn’t actually do anything for the chicken. Or in this case, the white wine I poured into the canister probably didn’t do anything for the turkey. On the other hand, I like how the bird cooks, with no soggy skin, and the wine made for some great gravy. So, debunking aside, I’m going to keep sticking my birds on their throne just the same.

Petsi’s pies really did live up to the hype. The bacon and Gruyere was delicious, rich and luxurious with the added vegetables keeping it from going over the edge. The sweet potato was wonderfully nutmeggy and not too sweet. The pumpkin was good, but I found it a wee bit too sweet. What really made me happy was the crust — buttery, flaky, and not too salty and not too bland. I have to admit to loving the crust on pie, but it’s so often an afterthought, a mediocre vehicle for what people see as the point. This was perfectly lovely on its own. I’ll definitely be going back for more pies, especially the mushroom and Gruyere one.

Note to self: baking hams in champagne is a waste of perfectly good champagne and ham.

We got Nueske’s ready cooked spiral cut ham and Harrington’s ready-to-cook ham. The Nueske’s was perfect out of the packaging — savory but not too salty, with a lingering hint of sweetness and smoke. I didn’t try the Harrington’s because I wasn’t sure if it was edible as was without cooking since it said it needed to be baked. Thinking that dumping a bottle of champagne over the both of them would only make them better, I did so. Sadly, it was not the case. Most of the ham’s flavor leached out into the champagne and even a mere hour in the oven (directions said for at least two!) changed the consistency of the ham, and not for the better.

Next time, we’re drinking the champagne and eating the ham cold.

I suppose I could have reduced the champagne and made a glaze — but I don’t like goopy stuff on my ham and the texture problem still would have been an issue.

Reminders to self for next year:

No more than four desserts for about twelve people, so maybe one dessert per three people. Even that seems a bit high if we’re talking about pie and cake. Who, after mashed potatoes, stuffing, ham, turkey, and way too much in the way of appetizers, is going to be able to eat a third of a pie?

Pumpkin pie, cheesecake, and maybe a chocolate cake for those who don’t like pumpkin pie or cheesecake. Definitely not the chocolate chip chocolate pie. No gilding the lily with cookies. And wonderful as the Florentines were, they were way too filling to have set out at the start of the party.

Asparagus always goes over well. Even more so wrapped in prosciutto. Roasted bell peppers and mushrooms? Much less so.

If feeling broke, spinach frittata with bacon/sausage is almost universally a hit and is mostly healthy to boot.

Also, always make more stuffing than you think you need. Ditto for mashed potatoes. Those are imperative for leftovers and everyone will be very sad if there aren’t leftovers.

Cranberry sauce might be a must. We had people asking after it and even though I’m personally a terrible foodie for usually disliking fruit with meat, the masses must be appeased. Good thing someone brought a can.

We had biscuits from the whack-a-can and they were lovely. No more slaving over yeast, fussing about space in the oven, and worrying about tenderness. I love from-scratch everything, and I have to say this is one area where I say outsource the heck out it. Pies too. Just let someone else make them so the oven stays clear.

*breathes out*

Whew. It was fun. I had a mostly-good time, which I’ve come to the conclusion is about as well as you can feel after hosting twelve people in your home — but I’m fairly relieved it’s over.

Now I’m going to go hide in my hole again and wait to recover from the burnout from cooking, cleaning, and washing up for twelve with a sprained ankle.