A New Way of Keeping Tabs: Things in My Face, Reader Edition

Early this month, I shared a post on Anxiety Ink about my newest means of keeping tabs on my writing goals. I created an ugly chart and I mark on it every single day whether I write fiction words or not. There’s no better way of keeping an eye on myself than with a bright blue item I can’t escape.

One month in, it’s really working for me. My return to reality week has been the hardest because I caught some bug on the plane home and I was just not present in my life. I nearly didn’t make my “write at least 3 days a week” goal that week, but writing on my chart made me realize that. So I opened my WIP and got some words down ASAP so I didn’t disappoint myself.

As I mentioned on Anxiety Ink, part of the reason I made the chart was because last year by the end of the week when I was finally able to sit down at my desk and see my progress, it was way too late to catch up. I was behind before I even realized it because I wasn’t keeping track where I could easily see my progress, or lack thereof.

One of my goals this year, again, is to read at least 68 books. Early on, I’m coming to understand that the same reason I failed at hitting my writing goals last year is keeping me from staying on top of my reading goals this year: I don’t know I’m behind until it’s too late.

So, I’ve commandeered a small corner of my 6 Month Plan and devoted it to tracking my reading. Every time I finish a book, I write down a number–my last read was the third one I’ve finished so a three went down in roman numerals. I also decided this would be a great chance to learn more roman numerals…mostly because I’m weird.

6 Month Plan (2)

I keep track of all the books I read on Goodreads, but I don’t pay enough attention. Goodreads is distracting so it’s easy to ignore my progress. My chart, which is pretty bare-bones, makes me so much more accountable to myself and makes shirking that much more difficult.

Have you taken steps to improve your productivity this year?

Perception

world map

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the fact that I’m a reader and a writer, that I’m fascinated with perception, especially the ways people perceive themselves and those around them. I can’t claim to have a background in psychology, since I haven’t studied it since high school—and we all know that that does not count—but I’ve had a lifelong interest I’ve continued to cultivate on my own.

As a writer, perception is something I have to be aware of when it comes to the characters I create. Even within the same story, I have to know how the protagonist sees themselves and their enemies, and I have to know how the antagonist sees themselves and their enemies. Their inward and outward perceptions provide plot fodder, tension, and so much more to a narrative.

As a reader, it’s good to be in tune to these perceptions if you want to get the most out of what you’re reading. Especially if you’re reading about a character with a lived experience so different from your own who makes decisions you never would.

As a human being, it’s also important to acknowledge others perceptions so you can be a more sensitive individual.

Recently, a few things in my life have culminated to throw ideas of perception at me. First, these quotes from Socrates arrived in my inbox: “The nearest way to glory is to strive to be what you wish to be thought to be.” And, “The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.”

Second, this exchange occurred at my day job when one of my more acerbic clients came in. We chatted while she got organized, and she told me that days before she tore a strip off someone at the Canada Revenue Agency. She followed this up with, “I don’t like to do that to anyone, but I was mad.” Honestly, I can easily see her doing this often. Even routinely. She has a very cutting personality, and she has no qualms about making her displeasure known.

You never know if people say things like this because they shouldn’t enjoy yelling at other people, when in fact they do, but they don’t want you to think they’re horrible. Or whether people don’t realize their own habits and ways of interacting with others. This perception of herself versus my perception of her are so at odds. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. If she was a character, I could easily play with this aspect to add depth to my story.

Lastly, this happened, also at the day job. Just before Christmas, my co-worker, who is a wonderful person but not the most enlightened when it comes to people not raised in small town, Conservative Alberta—and those who identify with those ways—was helping one of our clients who is from the Philippines. She asked about his Christmas plans and then proceeded to ask him if he celebrates Christmas. The man is very quiet and didn’t really answer her verbally, but he did wish her a Merry Christmas as he left.

When he was gone, she commented that it must be hard for kids of other faiths to see their fellow students in school doing all their Christmas stuff with their families. Unfortunately, such narrow generalizations are a routine occurrence where I work. I have learned to just ignore them because doing otherwise is like smacking my head against a brick wall. There are comments that raise my hackles and I have to interject. This was not one of those comments.

All I could think as I gritted my teeth in exasperation was, “People of other faiths actually have celebrations of their own that are just as culturally significant to them as Christmas is to spoiled white kids.” I couldn’t stop myself from pointing out to her that a large part of the Filipino demographic is catholic, which means they celebrate Christmas. That elicited an, “I didn’t know that.” I bit my tongue against my caustic reply.

This example illustrates Christian privilege as well as the western perception that people who don’t celebrate Christmas are missing out on something fundamental. This lack of cultural knowledge, or even sensitivity, drives me nuts. When you know nothing about how other people live and experience life, perhaps you should keep your mouth shut and not make snap generalizations.

In any case, as riled up as it can sometimes make me, it’s important to know that other people don’t perceive the world as I perceive it. And that’s not always a negative. Even here, I said Christmas is only significant to spoiled white kids, which is not true. I know that’s not true. But my own issues with the holiday sometimes allow me to forget that and I’ll perceive it in such an ugly light.

Perception speaks to so much about our society and social makeup. There are so many endless possibilities when it comes to exploring it whether for science, fiction, or entertainment.

What’s your best story about someone else’s perception of themselves or someone/something else?

Evolving Reader

In October I read Dark Places by Gillian Flynn for the book club I’m a part of with two good friends. I wrote a post in relation to it for Anxiety Ink and referenced Mary Higgins Clark, who I read quite heavily in my early teens. I haven’t read a book by Clark in years, even though I remember all of the stories I did read with fondness. That fact coupled with my mid-reading feelings about Dark Places (mainly that I just don’t read books like this anymore) got me thinking about how I’ve evolved as a reader.

I’ve always been an enjoyer of stories, but I didn’t get into reading like a maniac until I was around 12. A lot of disruptive things had happened in my life and I was in the midst of a few transitions. This lead to the realization that there is a solace and safety to be found in books. I started reading voraciously and haven’t stopped since.

From around that time there are titles that stand out for me, stories that I know quite intimately because I so connected with them when I read them. Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates, Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay Saga and In the Garden Trilogy, as well as slew of her Eve Dallas titles. I also read every Clark book I could get my hands on.

I immersed myself in Revolutionary France with Sandra Gulland’s Josephine B. Trilogy. I read Anita Shreve’s All He Ever Wanted and was so angry I had to step away from such books for a while. I was horrified by When Rabbit Howls by Truddi Chase. I read a lot of John Grisham. Then somehow delved into the world of fantasy with The Witches of Eileanan by Kate Forsyth, The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, and The Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart (which I discussed in detail here).

I can’t remember books I’ve read more recently with the kind of detail I can recall about those mentioned above.

I suppose I’d refer to all of these books as my foundation books. I have a fondness for all of them, and return to their authors every now and then, but in some cases I’ve changed as a reader. My tastes have altered and I expect different things from the titles I pick up now. Obviously 25 year old me does not want the same things as 13 year old me.

I’m going to create a few diagrams below to show the kind of reader I was and the various paths I was lead down, much to my reading pleasure. Perhaps if you’re looking to change up your reading and aren’t sure where to start these will help you out. I’m only going to do a few genres and a few titles because otherwise this will turn into the post that never ends.

Romance
I am an enormous romance buff. I can spend hours in the romance section of any bookstore. I’ve read nearly every subcategory and I’ve figured out what I do and don’t like. While Mary Higgins Clark is always found in the mystery section, a number of her books contain a romance element. I suppose I’d have to list her as my first exposure, as well as some truly entertaining Harlequin titles I got my hands on early in my reading life.

Romantic Suspense
This subgenre ties with Paranormal Romance for my favourite subgenre. I’ve read widely within it and have pretty high standards. For the record, I will read anything by Linda Howard.

      +  

Paranormal Romance
I’ve read so many paranormal titles that I would consider myself an expert. I have become increasingly picky when it comes to pararom because I feel like I’ve seen it all and some authors are simply better at writing it than others. I don’t care for soft romantic suspense either. I like dark stories where the door stays open, if you catch my drift.

         

Horror
I would not consider myself a King fan, though Cell is one of the best horror stories I’ve read. One of my best friends is a huge fan so I’d have to count him, through her influence, as my horror foundation.

   

Urban Fantasy
I adore urban fantasy and there are so many fabulous women writing in the genre!

     

Fantasy
My fantasy tastes are all over the place. I’ve listed high fantasy with what I suppose you could call regular fantasy and medieval here. I’ve removed all the urban titles at least.

           

Fiction
This genre is far too wide to tackle in full, so I’ve charted with titles I mentioned earlier.

     

YA
I dislike that YA lit is hodgepodged all together. I sometimes wish it was organized into different genres like adult lit, but I think that time will come soon. When I was a young adult there weren’t nearly as many titles available to me as there are to kids now. I love it. But as you can see, my younger years weren’t well organized.

           

I have glossed over a lot of titles and genres. I have to revisit this idea with a little more research behind me.

I’d love to hear about your gateway titles and the paths they’ve lead you down! While I have more to-read titles than I will ever admit, I love to hear a good recommendation.

English Nostalgia: I’m Finally Feeling the Pull

student-life-recap-by-tahmid-munaz-via-flickr

It’s no secret that I graduated from university without a clue as to what I was going to do; it’s in my site’s bio after all. Grad school was my equivalent of hell at the time. Honestly, it still is.

In September of 2013 I worked briefly at the University and did not feel one ounce of nostalgia. I was happy to be on campus laughing maniacally at all the students running around already stressed. That’s not to say that I didn’t have my own stress, just that I was feeling my share of schadenfreude.

Still, people were asking me then if I was missing school. Those who had graduated with me were. Those who still had a semester or two to go were happily back in the swing of things. I was perfectly content doing my own thing while job hunting. I didn’t miss a damn thing about my hectic university days. I was still exhausted merely thinking about them.

It’s been three years. And I am still not missing school. I have no desire to return to school. But I am feeling some nostalgia for my life as an English undergraduate.

I’ve realized recently that while I don’t miss the work, the actual time-consuming, hair-pulling, stress-inducing, sleep-depriving work, I miss campus culture, I miss learning, and I miss meaningful discussions.

Given who I am and what I love, it should be no surprise that my English nostalgia involves me missing book discussions. That’s likely why I was so keen to start a little book club with my close friends, though I’m not quite getting out of that what I had hoped yet. It’s a young club. I also have the Anxiety Ink Book Club to scratch the itch.

I’ve had a stagnant year on the creative front, which is likely why I’m finally feeling the pull. 2017 has to see some big changes for me because 2016 has sucked.

So there, I admit I’m feeling the loss of student life. Adulthood is not what adolescent me thought it would be. Growing up should come with a warning label: Not to Be Taken Lightly.

 

*featured image: student life recap by Tahmid Munaz via Flickr

A Bad Reading Habit: Anxiety and Comfort in the Known

mirror by Paul Keller via Flickr

It’s no secret that I suffer from anxiety. It’s not something I talk about a lot, but those who know me, and any readers from Anxiety Ink, are well aware of the fact. It’s something I’ve struggled with most of my life though I don’t take any medication for it. I’ve learned to handle it myself for the most part.

This year, 2016, has been particularly stressful. I’m noticing that I’m falling into some bad habits in an effort to comfort myself. While comforting oneself is not a bad thing, my coping mechanisms are leading to some not-so-great outcomes.

One, I’m closing myself off. That’s never good. I’ve been using my job as an excuse; it’s extremely social and while I do get peopled-out fast, I’m using that as a fall back. It’s ok to be tired, it’s ok to not want to do stuff all of the time, but lately I haven’t wanted to do anything with anyone at all. My friend wanted me to have coffee with her last week and I almost had a panic attack because it was too close.

Now that I’ve acknowledged the pattern I can take steps to fix it. This isn’t the first time and is likely not the last.

Two, and this is the one that’s bothering me the most (which says a great deal about me), is that I’ve developed a terrible reading habit. Every once in a while, when I can’t decide what I want to read next, I pick a favourite book off my shelf. The book I select is always one I’ve read before, and what I like to do is flip through and do a cursory re-read. I also do this when I’m tired and don’t want to read a single chapter of my current book-in-progress (I’m a binger).

My intention is always to simply read a favourite scene of my already-read book before I go to sleep. However, I always end up reading basically the whole thing and stay up later than I would have just picking up my current read.

Months ago I decided I had to stop doing this because it was really cutting into my reading time. My goal was to read 68 books this year –I can’t get that done if I’m not reading new books. I did better with that reason in mind, then fell off the wagon after reading two particularly sad books. I just wanted to be in a safe book that wouldn’t tug on those threads.

Lately, I haven’t been diligent about picking up my current-reads, and not because I’m not enjoying them. I finally had to stare the problem right in the face after perusing my to-read list and seeing all the awesome books I want to read.

This habit of picking up “safe books” is yet another coping mechanism I’ve developed because my life is not without stress right now.

While this coping mechanism is not nearly as worrisome as the other, it stems from and leads to the same thing. I’m putting up walls and falling back into the known because I can’t seem to control things lately. With the books, it’s about me being afraid to pick up a new read because I don’t know what’s going to happen. Picking up ones I’ve read gives me complete and utter control of the experience because I can take away exactly what I want.

Same goes for me not wanting to go out and socialize. It’s two sides of the same problem.

I wish it was as easy as realizing what the issue is and telling myself to stop. I really do. Baby steps are required, but I’ll get there. I’ve already started a new book with a set completion date and I have coffee plans for Friday. As well as a couple of other social events for the month.

The big stressors are the things I actually need to deal with. I’m working on those, though much more slowly.

I have to ask, does anyone else suffer from this bad reading habit? I don’t actually reread the entire book, which would be one thing, I read the parts that will make me happy. It’s an odd and controlling experience I hadn’t really thought of until I stopped to write this blog post.

 

*featured image: mirror by Paul Keller via Flickr.