People Who Don’t Read Fiction, or, A Defence of Fiction

Chances are, if you’re reading my post here, you are a fan of fiction. After all, I’m all over the internet as a writer and reader of fiction. Also, taking an assuming leap here, chances are that if you are a fan of fiction, like I am, you too are confounded by people who do not like or refuse to read fiction.

I have to admit that I see people who don’t read fiction in a strange light. Just like I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with people who don’t like animals. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people who don’t like fiction. I think it’s strange, but it’s not nearly as odd to me as the animal thing.

My friends and I have discussed this topic at length, and the main rationale we hear from people who don’t read fiction is that they don’t/can’t learn from it. Honestly, this infuriates me. I don’t want to insult anyone, but if you can’t learn from fiction, you’re either too lazy to figure out its purpose or you lack an ability to sympathize, or you have some combination of the two.

Understanding fiction isn’t for lightweights. Not only do you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but you have to be able to read between the lines. Reading and comprehending fiction requires skill and intuition.

Now, I read non-fiction as well. I enjoy books on history and philosophy and science. One of the best books I’ve ever read is a non-fiction book called Sex with the King. But the thing about non-fiction is, you don’t have to go an extra step. All you have to do is read a straightforward argument and decide whether you agree or not. You can go an extra step, but you don’t have to.

With fiction, you’re always presented opposing views. Sure, the author leads you in a certain direction, like a thesis would, but you get to see all the sides. This isn’t always the case with non-fiction. Exceptional non-fiction will provide a full view and use counterarguments, but there is still no requirement that you think outside its confines.

I must admit, I’m tired of people trashing fiction, especially genre fiction. If you open your mind, you can learn just as much, if not more so, from fiction of any kind. And it’s usually a much more enjoyable journey. Some books I would liken to non-fiction, as far as what they can teach a person, include: The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, A Thousand Acres, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and Beautiful Monsters.

Those are just off the top of my head. What fiction books would you consider more educational than some non-fiction?

Learning from Meditation: The Power of Not Doing

Last week I posted my first goals check-in on Anxiety Ink. While I was writing my update I was happily surprised by how positive my first quarter turned out. I tackled the new goals well and finally paid attention to ones I’d neglected for a long time. One of those neglected goals was to learn how to meditate. For years I’ve heard about the positive health benefits of mindfulness. Even in my yoga classes, which I started in January, the meditation portion is one of my favourite parts.

Despite all the great information at my fingertips, I never took that step to learn how. Mid-March I was playing around on Pinterest and was led to a blog where the author mentioned a meditation app, Calm. I figured that was the easiest way to try it out because my phone is always on and it’s always near me.

I took their 7 day meditation challenge and I’m hooked. I want to try out a few more apps before I commit to this one –there are only a few meditations to sample without paying– but I love the concept of a meditation app. It’s just too convenient.

The biggest lesson I have taken away from my foray into meditation is the power of not doing. I know that goes against everything we learn as productive members of society, but it’s true. Our minds and bodies are not designed to be occupied 24/7. Doing so, regardless of your natural energy level, leads to burnout.

I’ve suffered burnout, and it’s awful. And I am very close on the heels on of my second bout, which is likely what spurred me to get my butt on the meditation train.

The ten minutes I take a each day to sit at my desk and simply be are the best, most refreshing moments of my day. Hands down.

If you’re like me, an anxious, overachieving, type A perfectionist, you likely suffer from some kind of guilt if you’re not doing something. There’s always something that needs to be done, and sitting on one’s butt doing nothing isn’t getting it done. But that’s the thing, no matter what you do, there will always be another thing that needs to be done. It never ends. So why not take those moments of peace for yourself?

I leave the house and go to work five days a week. Depending on the day, I have household or pet chores to tackle when I get home, a workout to accomplish, blogging that needs to be handled, and now coursework on top of all of my regular stuff. Not to mention the people who need my attention in my life.

When I step back and take in all of the things I do in a single month, from the big items to the minutiae, it’s a wonder I haven’t snapped. We live in a society that believes if we’re not stressed and doing a hundred things at once we’re not working hard enough. That’s crap. All of us deserve to take a moment and recharge every day.

For me, those ten minutes of not doing have helped with my sleep, helped me cope with my anxiety, they helped me bounce back 90% faster from an extremely emotional day, and they have helped me focus better on tasks.

I’m taking my 10 minutes and I’m not feeling guilty about them.

Public Service Announcement: I’m Heading Back to School!

On Friday, the entire story of how I arrived at the point of determining that I need to go back to school will be live on Anxiety Ink. The short version of it is this: I want to acquire new writing skills and eventually find a career that challenges and utilizes those skills. So I have enrolled in a professional writing certificate program specializing in marketing and public relations.

Because I work nearly full time, and I do not want to try to figure out my vacation to do the courses on campus, I am doing distance learning. I’ve never taken any online courses before so this will be interesting in itself.

My first course starts in April and I am so excited.

However, even coming to the point of enrollment, I am floored at the cost. And that’s what I want to touch on a bit today.

Right now, I work at a day job where I make just above minimum wage with a limited amount of hours I’m allowed to work. I’ve made it work, and I am on track to pay off my Canada student loan this year and then my Alberta student loan next year. I graduated in 2013 and gave myself a 5 year window to pay those suckers off.

Now, having done some minor job searching, I’m feeling underpaid and under-challenged, though I realize I’m unqualified as far as being able to head in the career direction I currently want to go in. I don’t mean for this to sound conceited, but there is not much I can’t learn. As long as it doesn’t require advanced physics or neuroscience or a non-Latin alphabet, I can learn it.

Nevertheless, people don’t want to take you on if you don’t have a piece of paper that says you’ve been educated. Because I earned my BA Honours in English, I understand the skills required and acquired in that process. I also know how those skills can be applied to a variety of jobs. Unfortunately, that opinion is in the minority as far as the job market goes.

I don’t regret earning my English degree, though I am wishing I had minored in either business or communications or something else. Anything to show people that I can excel in the workforce. It’s irritating because I can –I’ve been working since I was fourteen– but I can’t find anything long-term to suit my degree.

I love the arts. I will never not admire the arts and what they give society, but those outside of them do not value what they can bring. Heck, I’ve met people inside them who think they’re bunk.

I graduated with an astronomical amount of stress and debit with no career options. I was fortunate enough to find a job close to my house and have parents willing to let me live with them largely cost-free, but I’m ready to move on.

It’s a good thing I am an excellent saver despite my meagre earnings because this certificate is going to cost me upwards of $3500 in the end. Couple that with my outstanding debt at about $12,000, and the price of my education leaves me scratching my head.

It’s unfair, we live in a world that says we need a college education to truly advance and build a worthwhile career, but that doesn’t account for the insane costs that not many of us can handle. I’m in a better position than most, though I don’t come from an affluent family. I’m good with my money, I’m driven, but if something were to happen to one of my parents tomorrow I would have to drop out of this program because that would place an enormous financial burden on my shoulders.

We have to spend money to make money…I’m $30,000 in, where’s my cut?

I value education, I always have. But between the costs of education, the cost of living, and the availability of jobs that will pay me well to use the skills I’ve spent years developing, I’ve got a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

National Novel Writing Month 2016: Epic Disaster

nano-attack-2016-disaster

As I write this post it I’m feeling a bit disheartened. It’s November 27th and this was the day I had planned on validating my NaNo win. I did not win. I did not even start.

The main reason National Novel Writing Month 2016 turned into an Epic Disaster this year is because my computer crashed on October 27th and it took 18 days for me to get up and running with a new one. I wrote the long story out on Anxiety Ink, if you’d care to hear my tale of woe and anger.

So, as I sit here huddled under my blanket in my office chair, I have to reiterate that I’ve only tackled NaNo twice. At the very least I’m two for two as far as winning goes, but I’m seriously bummed that my plans were destroyed this year.

I didn’t get my computer back until November 14th. That was the week of vacation I’d taken off work in order to throw myself hard into NaNo, but I really had no faith that I’d be able to catch up and eventually win, so I didn’t even try.

I feel guilty about not making an effort, but I feel amazing after getting some rest. This year has been exhausting for so many reasons and I was in desperate need of a week to myself.

This is not the post-NaNo update I thought I’d be writing once December rolled around. Still, I want to share what I learned that I think is equally worthwhile to what I had hoped to get out of a NaNo win this November.

1) Mental rest is important. I was quite sick off and on through the start of 2016, so once I found a self-care regimen that gave me my health back, I pushed myself hard. I think I pushed myself too hard. The numerous breakdowns I had over my computer crashing illustrated just how fried my nerves were. While those 18 days without my laptop were frustrating beyond words, they allowed me to take a step back and be part of the real world for a while. I need that more often.

2) Technology breaks need to be implemented in my life. I work 30 hours a week on a computer at the day job. When I’m home I’m usually on my computer if I’m not reading, working out, cleaning, eating, sleeping, or chasing cats. That’s a lot of hours in front of a screen. After being away so long I actually got my first bit of novel writing done on the night of the 18th because I wasn’t sick of being there. I need to find a better balance of screen.

3) Scheduling well ahead on both blogs is not just a good idea for NaNo prep. I am so grateful I was two months ahead here and on Anxiety Ink because if I had had to worry about writing and scheduling blog posts on top of all of the other stuff I was worried about over those 18 days, I would have been an even worse basket case.

4) Balance is going to be my word for 2017. I had more events in my social calendar this month than I have all year it seems. I’ve become a bit of a shut-in and I don’t think that has been helping me whatsoever. In my defence, this is the first year I’ve worked 5 days a week every single week. I’m selfish when it comes to my alone time and two day weekends have been a hard adjustment for me; I’m used to having either weeks at a time, or a day in the middle of the week to myself. I must work on getting out more further apart so that when I do fight for the alone time I need I’m not neglecting others, or myself.

5) 2016 as a whole has been an enormous life lesson. I have a new appreciation for balance and actively working towards goals. I haven’t had a chance to plan out 2017 and strategize, but I have all the supplies and knowledge I need. I will not be sitting back and letting life happen and hoping to get things done some way, somehow this year. That’s a stupid way to try to get things done and I have learned my lesson.

How did your November go?

The Contention of Women Writers and Initials

The relationship of female writers and the use of initials is not a topic that is new to me. I’ve tackled it before on Anxiety Ink. Please note the comments nearest the end are the really important parts.

I myself am a female writer who writes under initials. I have a couple of reasons as to why I prefer to do so, mainly the world’s inability to pronounce or remember by first name –at least I thought this was my main, valid reason until I read this passage in Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead:

“I used my initials instead of a first name – I didn’t want any-one important to know I was a girl. Anyway, in high school we’d studied an essay by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch which said that the ‘masculine’ style was bold, strong, vivid, and so forth, and the ‘feminine’ one was pastel, vapid, and simpy. Writers are fond of saying that writers are androgynous as to their capabilities, and that is no doubt true, though it is telling that most of those who make this claim are women. But they are not gender-neutral in their interests. Most importantly, they are treated differently, especially by reviewers, however that difference in treat-ment may manifest itself; and sooner or later that will affect them” (Atwood, Margaret. Negotiating with the Dead. Anchor Canada Edition. 2003. 21).

Having read this, and reacted like I was dealt a blow, I think my rationale for writing under initials has much more to do with feminine baggage than my own neuroses over my name. Those are my emphases in the passage by the way. I have never read a woman whose writing I would consider simpy, by the way. Weak prose are a matter for editing, not a fact of nature for women writers.

Anyway, before you set this quote aside as dated or as second wave hogwash –its 2016 after all!– know that just last year I spoke with a woman who decided at the last minute to initial her name on the marketing book she published so that she wasn’t immediately dismissed by male readers as just a woman. She wanted a chance beyond that first glance, she wanted people to read the blurb of her book at the very least before they dismissed it if that’s what they were inclined to do.

Key phrase there: “just a woman.”

Let that sink in. Seriously. It is 2016 and there are still countless female writers out there who either publish under initials or adopt a male alter ego so that they are taken more seriously. Hell, so they are given more opportunities! Don’t believe me? Joanne Rowling not only publishes under J.K. but also Robert Galbraith. And that’s Joanne freaking Rowling!

What are we doing to our women artists that they can’t even feel sure of themselves in their own female skins? It’s hard enough being an artist, it’s damn near close to impossible being a female artist sometimes.

I’ve never in my life judged a book’s content on the gender of the author unless it’s a man that really really demeans the female characters in his work, but that’s a whole other ball game. It appalls me that gender is even a factor. I didn’t even know this was a problem until I hit adulthood. Why is it that kids don’t care who writers what as long as it’s an entertaining story? Why do we slather all of these crazy labels on everything as adults?

It baffles me.