Fated to Last-Minute Syndrome

LASTMINUTEB

I’ve been trying to write more. Short fiction. I’ve entered a few contests so far with no expectations except for that of an imposed deadline. In the process, I’ve learned something about myself, something I do not like (an addition to a very long list): I seem to suffer from last-minute syndrome. I learn of a contest’s existence weeks–if not months–in advance, and yet, here I am again with nuggets of two potential ideas and deadlines looming just around the corner, i.e. this weekend.

The thing with writing is that there are no rules. Oh sure, there are tips and perspectives.

“This works for me, so it might work for you. Or not. But try it. Maybe.”

There are schools of thoughts.

“A story should be written in full in one sitting.”

Or

“If you spend more than six months on a story without nearing completion, forget it… Except if you’re Harper Lee. Or Flaubert.”

There are even mathematical formulas.

“Take your draft + Cut off about 25% of it = Get final cut.”

And here I thought I chose a career in letters to avoid the whole math thing!

I know distance is good; it could actually be key. You write it all down. You take a breather. You come back and you can see it for what it is and make the necessary cuts and additions to make it shine, or at least make it less dull. But when you suffer from last-minute syndrome, you lack the time required for distance. You rely on your first readers (and you drive them a little bonkers: “Got time to read this? I have to ship it in, oh, two hours. Swimming in time, right?”).

I’m left hoping that the cliché of practice makes perfect will turn out to be true; that the more I will write, the better I will be at getting started earlier and at completing a first draft at least a few days before a deadline.

But I dream…

On Transitions

two chairs

Being in limbo may be one of my favourite expressions in the English language (it’s so evocative, is it not?), but when you find yourself in that position, it’s darn right uncomfortable. Sitting between two chairs, trying to leave the familiar behind for the fuzzy perspective of something new (exciting!), unknown (scary!) and uncertain (have I mentioned scary?). And as it often happens in life, transitions can be forced on you.

In my case, it’s the loss of a client–through no fault of my own; only the reality of business–that makes me question my field or, more to the point, a future in my field. I’ve been freelancing for seven years now. Most of the time, the work is flowing in steadily, but I’m noticing changes, shifts, which make me wonder how sustainable my career choice will be in the long run. So now I’m looking to diversify.

I’ve been told by a few people who are not afraid to criticize and speak their minds that I’m not too bad at the whole writing thing (can’t you just tell by this superb sentence?). Since I’m a translator, the move to writing seems natural in a way, but writing what exactly? That’s where the scary transition comes in. This particular transition is made scarier by the fact that change is looming its ugly head in pretty much every aspect of my current life. Tackling the safer area of work (safer for me, anyway) might be the easiest shift of them all, though it’s still unnerving for me.

Where to start? What to do? How to become as credible and respected in writing as I (hopefully) am in translating?

This will be a long to-do list, won’t it?

What’s Wrong With You?

happy

This probably won’t be my most coherent entry. It might also feel like it should have been preceded with a “Dear Diary”. I haven’t kept a diary in years. I also haven’t seen a therapist in years, and yet I found myself back to that very space, a space that felt very much like square one.

“Why are you here?” she asked.

That was all it took for me to start bawling. When I say bawling, I mean it–the kind where you sob so much you can’t speak. Uttering words becomes impossible because your voice is breaking, your throat is clenching, and no matter how hard you try to swallow it all down, you have trouble putting together one satisfying answer to that simple question. I’m here because I’m unhappy.

“Are you depressed?” she asked.

Loaded question. I’ve been through a mild depression before. I define it as mild because I’ve seen the toll of a real, hardcore depression on others. It wasn’t like that, though it was worse (was it?) than how I am feeling right now. The straight answer? No. I’m not depressed. I can work. I can sleep. I can work out. I can read. I can eat (without overeating). In short, I can function. I get things done.

“Then what’s wrong? Obviously you’re here for a reason. What is it?” she asked.

Well… I’m not happy.

“You’ve said that already. Why aren’t you happy? What’s missing?”

More bawling. The truth is I know what’s missing. Love is missing. Strangely, it’s not just the love one gets from having a companion, a partner. It’s love period. Love has always been a thing missing from my life. Who loves me? No-one, really. No-one ever has. So it’s fair to conclude that no-one ever will, right? However, I can’t tell her that in such a straightforward way, so I fib. I say something that’s not exactly untrue, but that doesn’t quite hit the bull’s eye. I feel unimportant, I tell her. I feel like my life has no meaning.

“What would give meaning to your life then? Again: what’s missing?”

She just won’t let up, the witch. But that’s why I’m paying her to bawl in her office, isn’t it? I’m betting she already knows the answer. I’m not exactly in a position to hide my real emotions. I’m crying so much, I’m grateful I biked to get here. Taking my bicycle automatically equals taking a towel with me (I sweat A LOT). The towel is better at wiping my tears than those cheap, industrial-quality tissues she keeps pushing towards me.

In the end, I just couldn’t say those words exactly. She guessed some of it, classified my feelings under the banner “loneliness”, which is also not wrong. The worst part (she really knows what she’s doing) is that she left it all up to me. “I’m going on vacation, so you take the next few weeks to think about it, to figure out if you’re ready to come back here to work,” she said. “It’s a huge issue you’ll have to tackle. You need to be ready.”

It’s so hard to leave one’s comfort zone behind, isn’t it? Even if you feel like it’s killing you slowly.

On reading “trash”, i.e. romance novels

taller

(This is fake book cover, by the way. Just thought I’d specify that.)

As a translator, I get all sorts of assignments: some fascinating, some boring, some really badly written (there, my proper title should be “decipherer”) and some “trash”. Trash as in romantic pop fiction. I use trash with quotation marks because I don’t think there is anything wrong with it: it can be quite entertaining. It’s the type of fiction you often find on “summer’s must-read lists”. It’s on the lighter side, brushing up with fantasy and thriller, but at the end of the reading trip, everyone is happy. It’s easy-to-digest fiction and, again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

So I’ve translated a good amount of that kind of fiction since I’ve been in the biz, and while it can be quite enjoyable, it also led me to the thought of: “Why couldn’t I actually write a novel like this?” And the answer, of course, is: “Why not? Give it a go.”

To write a genre well, you have to read that genre extensively. Actually, to write, you should read extensively. That’s not me saying this, but Mr. Stephen King himself in his book On Writing (which I highly recommend, by the way–not that Mr. King needs more money or anything). So lately, I’ve been reading some romance novels. Studying them would be the more appropriate phrasing. What makes a romance novel good? What kind of storyline grabs the reader from the get-go? How detailed should it be? Must romance always include erotica in this day and age?

I don’t mind telling you that it’s a fascinating journey even though it leaves me puzzled at times. Must everyone be perfect for the romance novel to work? Are women readers (let’s face facts) only interested in strong, alpha male characters? Is there room and interest for something else? The truth is if I want to have the slightest hope to get a romance novel published, I will probably have to stick to the clichés while finding a way to make them sound fresh.

Romance novels may be an easy read, but the more I study them, the more I understand that they are not that easy to write.

Pool Stories

Olympic-Size Pool

When I took up swimming about two years ago, my friend Rob warned me: some of the weirdest people you’ll ever meet hang out at the pool. I laughed it off, thinking: the weirdos, man, they are everywhere. I mean, I was a member of a 24-hour gym for three years; a gym in my, let’s say, challenging neighbourhood. A gym facing a police station. A gym frequented by exotic dancers, bodybuilders and biker gang members. So I scoffed a little at Rob’s warning (might as well come out and say it) and signed up with a private trainer to learn to swim. And was I ever wrong to scoff.

The weirdest people you’ll ever meet, you will meet at the pool.

There are the obvious weirdos: the ones who rush to take the shower stall you were walking towards even though there are a number of free stalls; the ones who insist on taking the locker right next to yours even though (again) there are tons of free lockers in the locker room. But those weirdos, you meet them at any good gym. The pool weirdos are in a category of their own.

And here is my Top 5.

The even-though-you’ve-been-swimming-in-this-lane-for-15-minutes-I-will-now-take-over-it-and-leave-you-no-choice-but-to-move-to-another-lane weirdo: Self-explanatory, really.

The I-make-my-own-rules weirdo: As the Olympic pool where I normally swim is closed for repairs; I’ve been swimming at the YMCA. The 25-meter pool is pretty much your standard half-half pool with a shallow and deep end. There’s this one lady who doesn’t swim the full lap because she refuses to swim in the shallow end and thus rotates only in the deep end. Tricky when a bunch of swimmers are trying to do full rotations.

The snorkelling pervert: I met this little gem back in December. He was swimming seemingly quietly in the slow lane along the buoy line. I noticed him throwing looks at my trainer and me but was mostly focussed on listening to her instructions before doing more laps. It turns out Mr. Snorkel was ogling me (and when I say me, I mean my boobs) under the water. The pool has this great advantage though: under the water, no-one can hear you scream. And no-one can see you signal… except whoever you signal to. My trainer was very efficient at letting the pervert know “dude, we can see you”.

The I’m-a-much-faster-swimmer-than-you athlete: First of all: yep, you’re faster. Second of all: Who cares? I’m swimming in the medium speed lane here. If you think I’m too slow, move over to the fast lane, mmk?

The older-lady-who-insists-on-chatting-your-ear-off-while-you-try-to-shower-and/or-change: I’m not someone who can carry on conversations stark naked in front of strangers. Call me odd, if you will, but I’m borderline prudish. I believe in taking a quick shower in a closed stall and then getting dressed quickly. So no, lady, I am not here to have a long chat with you about the weather with a boob hanging out. That’s just not how I roll.

A Very Short List…

Graphic of a digital sound on black bottom… of my favourite albums of 2014, in no particular order.

It’s a short list because I realise I have been lazy on the discovery side of things. I shall try to do better in 2015. Aaaaannnnddd… GO!

InterpolEl Pintor

Interpol is back with their solid hooks and sometimes cryptic lyrics. A solid album from beginning to end, but is well worth the price for “My Desire” alone. Also, if I’m being completely honest, 2014 is strongly linked to Interpol for me because of the huge Buffalo snowstorm of November, which left the band stranded on the side of the road, trapped in a tour bus for days, and forced them to cancel several shows including a stop in Montréal, my city. Looking forward to catching them sometime in 2015.

Manic Street PreachersFuturology

As my Manics fangirl ways are known wide and far, what a shock to find Futurology on my list, uh? But even a fangirl will admit that some albums are stronger than others, and Futurology is a freaking heavy weight. Influenced by the band’s relentless touring of Europe, it’s kind of optimistic (who knew the Manics could do that?), especially in the aftermath of 2013’s Rewind The Film–an ode to nostalgia from a middle-age standpoint.

CommonNobody’s Smiling

I’m not what you would call a hardcore hip-hop fan, but I do have a few favourites, among which is Common. Common grabbed me back in the 90’s with Like Water for Chocolate, and he hasn’t let me down ever since (though Be was a little on the short side, Common: what was up with that?). Nobody’s Smiling delivers classic hip-hop with nice funk and r&b influences. It’s delicious.

Damien RiceMy Favourite Faded Fantasy

The wait has been loooooong; many fans wondered if it was actually it for Mr. Rice. The infamous and distressing breakup with his fellow musician and muse Lisa Hannigan seemed to have kill the spark. Not surprisingly, My Favourite Faded Fantasy indeed feels like a love letter to a former lover. It’s beautiful, sad, melancholic, but also tinged with hope. You may not be hooked straight away, but give it a few listens.

So. Because my list is very short, I hope some of you can recommend your favs and your discoveries of the past year. I am all ears!

Dear (?) December…

hello-decemberWell, hello there, December. You’re back, are you? How are you? It seems I’ve just seen you not so long ago, but hey! You’re here now so I’ll make an effort; I’ll try not to be rude. I’ve said hello, haven’t I? I’ve asked how you are. What more do you want from me?

It’s not your fault, really. You didn’t choose to have that Holiday associated with you. Hell, by all accounts, that dude was probably not even born during you, and yet, you have to shoulder that burden. So I shouldn’t be so cross with you. I should feel sorry for you. To be honest, some people I like very much have their birthdays associated with you (Hey Rob! Hey Amy!) but unfortunately, that holiday (I’ve stopped using the Capital on purpose now. I’m getting rude. I wish I could apologize.) screws it all up.

The trouble is I like that holiday… in theory. I love getting a tree and decorating it. I love to have an excuse to bake (and eat) tons of cookies. I love watching cheesy movies. I love having a little bit of a break in the middle of the week*. It’s not something that happens frequently in my freelancer world, so it’s lovely.

But I hate, hate, hate the obligations. Spending time with people I don’t see during the rest of the year and pretending that I have something to say to them (I’ve covered the topic of social anxiety in this blog earlier, December, if you want to browse down and read about that). December: on that fucking holiday (shit, I’m getting nasty now), I wish that I could just bake cookies, prepare myself a nice hot cocoa, sit next to my beautiful tree and watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy by myself. Just me, cookies, hot cocoa, tree and Aragorn.

But I dream…

*Five times out of seven, not a bad average.

Cheers to…

kindness

I was about to write on women and violence against women and how difficult it is to speak up about the mundane abuse suffered by many women on a daily basis, but others have done so already, in light of the Ghomeshi debacle, and have done it much better than I could.

I was about to write about body image and how women are often–most unfortunately–the first to judge other women on their appearance, the clothes they wear, the shape of their bodies, but that’s also been done to death, and I’m not sure how to get us to be nicer to one another. I am guilty of preconceived judgement myself, though I try to analyze my initial reactions as much as I can. Pobody’s Nerfect. (Now I’ll have the Wolf Parade’s song in my head all day. Meh, could be worse.)

So what should I write about then? Maybe about how kindness is underrated? Maybe about how we should all celebrate simple acts of goodness when we see them? That’d be a start. Learn to say “thanks” to the stranger who holds the door for us, to the driver who gives us the right of way even if the right of way was his/hers, to the friend who calls just to see how we are.

Maybe.

So… Cheers to kindness?

Complicating the Uncomplicated

Monkey-WrenchWhile I do not think it is a habit of mine, I’m sure I can be guilty of doing it too from time to time–complicating things for no good reasons, except maybe to stall. Give myself more time to find an excuse to postpone or to evade something altogether. But have you noticed that some people seem to have a knack for complicating the uncomplicated?

You’ll have everyone agree on a simple, straightforward solution, and then this one person will come in and throw a wrench in the whole thing. Then you’ll find yourself thinking about that person’s idea and wonder, “Wait… How is this better? How is this an improvement from Solution A?”

Sadly, most of the time, it’s not. It’s a complication. And I’m not sure what it’s about. Power? Enjoyment? The people who do this regularly or even systematically, do they get some kind of pleasure out of it? Does their brain go: “If you suggest this, everyone will roll their eyes. Won’t that be fun?”

I will admit this, though: I do get pleasure at seeing them fail; at seeing them having to pick up their wrench and shove it in their backpocket to use it at another time. Though I know that other time may come as soon as an hour later; still: I managed to uncomplicate one instance of the uncomplicated that got complicated for nothing. So I win. For a minute or two.

I Have a Shameful Secret

secret

And shameful is not too strong a word. I have stepped into a strange, strange world; one I had no idea even existed up to a just short while ago. That world, my friends, is called the world of fan fiction.

*GASP!*

I know, I know. I can’t even tell you how it happened exactly. It’s the good old story of “I was just browsing the Internet, minding my own business, reading some gossips over at dlisted.com, and then boom! I got suck into a vortex.”

It began with me reading some of it. Bad, bad stories—stories in which basic grammar and syntax seem to be mere suggestions. I mean, we have ALL heard of the most infamous fan fiction of the fan fiction kingdom, namely: Fifty Shades of Grey. It doesn’t get much worse than that, does it? However, I also stumbled on good stories, with a great plot and extensive research on historical details of which I would not have even thought. That’s when it happened. The… urge… to write as well.

*GASP!*

I try to justify it to myself with excuses like “Hey! Writing is writing. It’s good practice! Those characters have been enjoyed by many, many viewers, so it makes sense that I would enjoy writing for them.” Oh dear.

Well, now that the secret is out, let me head back to my secret donjon (i.e. my desk) and write some more.