I Fell Down a Hole

I have always considered myself an organized and responsible person. In college I never missed an assignment or flunked a test. After graduation, I worked diligently until I found a job and had a steady income. Nowadays, I rarely miss work deadlines, show up at least five minutes early to everything, and never run out of clean underwear.

I have also always believed that life is all about balance. No one can be organized and regimented all the time, me included. I am very responsible when it comes to work, exercise, and other household chores, but I am definitely not organized when it comes to my hobbies.

When it comes to my main hobbies, like reading, writing, crocheting, and horror movies, there is absolutely no gray zone. I swing between being completely obsessed with a book or project for days at a time and having zero interest in even thinking about it.

I recently came up with a name for my habit. I call it falling down a hole. giphy
A few weeks ago I was sitting with my coworkers outside, enjoying the sunshine and talking about books. We were talking about our favorite genres and, of course, I brought up my obsession with scary stories.

My coworkers, Stephen and Meredith, said that they had read some Stephen King, but can’t read a whole lot of his work. For every book of his they read, they have to read something light-hearted to “recover.”

In my entire life, I’ve never had to do that. When I finish a scary story, I don’t try to find some way to escape from my terror, I revel in it. I finish a scary story and then immediately search out the next scary story I can find. I can’t get enough. I need more, more, more. A few years ago I read my first novel by Jack Ketchum. It was gruesome and terrifying and stomach-turning and I immediately wanted more.

Can’t stop, won’t stop. That’s basically my policy when it comes to my hobbies.
Well, it is until the switch in my brain is suddenly flipped off and I lose all interest. And when I say a switch if flipping, I’m being very serious. It’s not a gradual thing. I put something down and then just don’t pick it up for months and months.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll finish a book if I start it and if I’m crocheting something for a friend I’ll always finish it. But if it’s something I’m just goofing around with then there’s a good chance I’ll put it on a shelf and just forget about it. I have so many partially finished novels and crochet projects just laying around.

You’d think for being the most organized person in my office I’d be more organized when it comes to my own hobbies, but nope! Apparently all of the energy I use to stay on track I use at work.

Fuck everything else in my life I guess.

-EMS

The Malazan Book of the Fallen

We moved to Washington in the year 2000.  It was a rough journey for me because I had just found my stride in school.  Then we moved and I had to start over.  At this time I was reading a lot of books because I just couldn’t be arsed to try and make friends again.

In 2001, our family drove back to Wisconsin.  On the first day we stopped at a Barnes and Noble.  This was fortuitous, because I had just crushed the current book I was reading.  There was one of those tables near the fiction aisles with ‘recommended picks’ on it.  And front and center, with a vibrant red cover was Gardens of the Moon: a Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson.

I liked the blurb on the back, and the introduction inside on the dust jacket, so I asked mom to pick it up for me.   I dove in hard, and the book smacked me around.  It was nothing like anything I had ever read.  Up until that point I had only been reading young fiction.  I powered through series like Tamora Pierces Circle of Magic series and the Song of the Lioness.  Quick little books that tackled stories such as growing up and being the most possible special.

Arguably Gardens of the Moon was my first adult series.  The writing was complex, the story was rich and vast, and characters were defined by their actual character instead of the arbitrary arc of the book.  I think it took me an entire year to finish it originally.

The core series finished in 2011.  It’s ten books in its entirety.  It stands as my favorite series to date.  Pretzel and I are currently listening to them on audiobook.  And they are as good as I remember.

Currently Steven Erikson is working on finishing a new trilogy that is a prequel to the core series.  And its a pain to read.  Several times I’ve considered putting the book down and reading something else.

Civil war has broken out in the land of the Tiste, a noble people who have been introduced to gods and magic.  A rift is growing between the highborn Tiste nobles and the lowly soldiers that fought their wars.  Read the book for the full story thus far.

The current book, The Fall of Light, starts out with something close to 350 pages of talking.  Steven Erikson loves to expound at length about expectations versus reality.  And its a big part about why I love his books!  But 350 pages of people talking about the civil war that’s brewing, the cause of war, why humans war, the sides of the civil war, the philosophy of war, cause and effect, life and death, bravery versus survival.

Fucking shit dude, shut up!  Let the war begin before you bog me down with the intellectual stuff.

You, dear reader of this lonely blog, might recognize 350 pages as the length of other goddamn books.  I just got to the part where real things are happening.  When I say they are talking and expounding at length, I don’t mean like they are on a battlefield spouting philosophy at their enemies.  They are literally sitting around the citadel in the capital city, sitting around campfires, sitting around temples, sitting in front of a hearth, sitting around mansions, et-fucking-cetera.

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Sorry I nodded off there.

Its so annoying to me that this book starts off so dry.  Like a big bowl of steel cut oats served on a hairdryer.  His books have this quality to them that’s hard to explain, and this book is not delivering what I’m looking for.  I look forward to his books, and it bums me out because it took him approximately 3 Big Bang’s ago to write this one.

Steven Erikson loves to subvert expectations normally found in high fantasy.  And that resonates with me so very deeply.  He creates his own races with their own cultures.  His pantheon is vast and varied.  His books don’t rely on existing tropes to come flesh out his narrative.  There are no elves, and there are no dwarves.

Tolkien fantasy is still fine, I don’t hate it, but so many novels use it as a crutch.  Elves are ageless, beautiful mystics.  Dwarves are hardy, drunk Vikings.  Orcs are ugly, stinking, cannibalistic warriors who respect strength.  Seeing a book, or idea, or setting that uses Tolkien fantasy always feels so assumed.

Why do the elves use the bows in your book?  Why do dwarves use axes?  You know dwarves all live in mines, so of all the tools they could use as a weapon an axe that is used to cut down trees in a dark, deep cave makes senseElves use a weapon that traditionally needs great visibility and lines of sight over a battlefield.  You know what place doesn’t typically have those things.  A forest.

I mean- it’s a very contrived argument to have against this stuff.  Tolkien fantasy is classic and established.  People can use the setting as a backdrop for a quest line or a story and the rest sort of fills itself in.

Its not the only way Erikson subverts what the reader expects.  Characters aren’t all dashingly handsome or strikingly beautiful.  I’d say a majority of his characters are intentionally described as plain or ugly.

Some personalities are grating.  Some hobbies are disgusting.  There is a dude who frequently spits phlegm into his hands to smooth his hair back with it.  There is a character who wears and unwashed shirt made of his dead mothers hair.   There is a dude whos nose was mutilated and has to constantly wipe snot away with his arm.

The way Erikson describes events is equally unexpected.  People don’t die on heroic manners.  There are no characters that have a graceful, glorious death.  You know the scene with Boromir from Lord of the Rings?

A heroic death.  He slays orc after orc, takes arrow after arrow, but he is filled with such magnificent purpose that he fights until he cannot stand or hold his sword.

Characters in Steven Erikson books don’t die like that.

Death is ugly.  Its bloody, smelly, and is a wholly singular experience.  You don’t die surrounded by friends.  You don’t die fighting and struggling.  War is random.  Battle is unforgiving.  You are lucky if anyone remembers your name.  Soldiers are a number.  Thousands get sacrificed for a different regiment of a thousand faceless soldiers can have the chance to achieve the greater goal.  War is never noble, and the results are never worth it.

Its this divide between being beautiful and being hideous, or being heroic and being no one, that Erikson loves to play with.  He creates this negative space in his books; so when a character is beautiful, or when a death is heroic, you take notice.  Granted, its fewer and farther between, but it makes you appreciate the beautiful moments.

Not to mention there is a lot to explore in the interim.  Soldiers understand their grim purpose and lo, we get some of the best gallows humor I’ve ever read.  The dialogue isn’t sad, its not happy, its a completely believable comradery that Erikson manages to capture in these snapshots of marching soldiers.  It makes you feel.  It makes you understand.  Sometimes squad mates don’t like each other, but they are all they’ve got.  You’ll get characters bickering for chapters and chapters but then in the end they absolutely work together, or grieve for the other.  Its an army of brothers and sisters.  War isn’t about glory.  War is about survival.  You fight for that next dawn, and that is what makes it beautiful.

Will I convince you to read these books?  No.  Would I recommend them to everybody?  No.  Hell, I’m currently reading one of his books and I’m struggling with it.

Listening to the books again reminds me of what I appreciate in the literature I read.  It helps me understand what I should be looking for in a book.  It gives me a sense of direction of the types of things I want to write myself.  I have played with the idea of writing a book, and just as soon as I have an idea I’ll get started.  The Malazan Book of the Fallen series stands the test of time to me because it doesn’t walk the paths of other fantasy books before it.  It doesn’t rely on tropes.  It doesn’t rely on what’s expected.

And I love it.

Except the parts of the book I’m currently readying that suck.  Fuck those parts.

-DTM

The Best Kind of Overwhelmed

Dude, it was amazing to see you this weekend! I already miss you like crazy, but I’m glad you made it home safe. And I’m serious when I say I literally miss you like crazy. This morning, I woke up at 2 a.m. and thought I heard your voice out in the living room. That’s the level of crazy, and exhausted, I am.

Before you left on Monday, you bought me a copy of Norse Gods by Neil Gaiman, which is a book I’ve had my eye on. I was so excited to start reading it, so I took it home and…put it on the huge pile of other books I’m excited to read.

Like the title of this post says, I am the best kind of overwhelmed right now. I have SO many books to read and podcasts to listen to and movies to watch, it’s a little intimidating. However, after spending a few months in a media rut, I am ecstatic to be in this position.

At the end of 2016, I was having a really hard time finding a book series that I could get into. I was craving the full immersion I experienced with series like Harry Potter and The Dresden Files, but just couldn’t find anything I really liked. I also just finished watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix and was dealing with the void that left, so I couldn’t really turn to TV. And, to top off my media rut, I had listened all of my favorite albums into the ground so even music felt boring.

Well, at the beginning of 2017, I decided to re-read The Dresden Files. It had been a while since I had read the whole series and I knew that I liked the series. It wasn’t something new, but hey, at least I knew it would keep my attention. The only copies of The Dresden Files we have are signed hardcovers. Not only are hardcovers difficult to fit into a purse, I didn’t want to risk banging up a SIGNED copy.

Thankfully, the local library had the series. How did Arthur put it? Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card!

I walked down to the public library and found Storm Front, the first of the Dresden Files books. I grabbed it, but then kept poking around, looking for other books that might look interesting. Long story short, I ended up walking away with five books, four of which I had never heard of.

I read all of them in a month. Seriously. I hadn’t felt that excited about reading since high school.

That is definitely where this reading frenzy really started. By walking into the public library, I caught the reading bug and it has been fantastic! I’m currently finishing the Hannibal Lecter book series and have Norse Gods, two Jack Ketchum novels, the Exorcist, Apt Pupil, a Michael Crichton novel, and the third Dresden Files book to read. I’ve also had to physically resist picking up a copy of Lazarus Rising and The Magicians. I have way too many books to read as is.

Oh, I also have 1984 to read for my book club. Woe is me, I have too many books to read.

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This podcast is literally my aesthetic.

When you were in town, you also showed me this podcast phone app and sent me a few podcasts to check out. Well, I’m happy to report, I have fallen directly down the hole that is podcasts. I’m currently ten episodes into Nightvale and have seven other podcasts I’m dying to listen to. To try and get through Nightvale, I’ve started spending my lunches at work coloring and listening to podcasts. Adulthood at its finest.

And, too top off this media influx I’m experiencing, I have a growing list of movies I want to watch. I’ve been reading a ton of horror novels and have felt very inspired to go out and check out some of the classic horror films I have missed. I want to watch all of the Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, and Hellraiser films as well as go out and find other classics like Poltergeist, The Exorcist, and Suspiria.

tumblr_oivjh6wp9h1s1v3r1o1_500The problem with this is I only have to many hours in the day and eight of them are taken by work and another six to eight are taken by sleeping. I also have other things I need to accomplish, like exercising, cleaning, and other adult responsibilities. It’s been a hard week for me because I literally just want to sit at home in my PJs and binge everything. I don’t want to work or exercise or do ANYTHING but read and listen and watch.

I went from being in a rut to having WAY TOO MUCH to do. When it rains, it really fucking pours.

-EMS

So What Now?

Sometimes I find it funny how alike we are, Daniel. This morning I sat down to write my blog post, but couldn’t find any inspiration so I sat for twenty minutes looking at old Tumblr posts I like to distract myself. Yesterday, on my lunch break, I re watched a bunch of old Jenna Marbles videos instead of reading my book or working on one of the many goals I’ve set for myself because I was tired.

You mentioned that your friends and family are out hustling and getting things done. Well, just so you know, in between these small bursts of productivity in my life, I’m re watching old episodes of Gilmore Girls and eating cereal for dinner because I have no motivation to do anything else. I guess I’m not as much of a hustler as you think.

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I’m not going to lie and say I don’t have anything in my life that I find exciting. I enjoy running and crochet and reading, but sometimes my stress gets in the way of these things. I’ll come home after a hard day of work and want nothing more than to just sit on the couch, browsing Tumblr on my phone with the TV on in the background. On those days, I usually have to force myself to get up and do something. I know I’ll feel better after I find something else to do, but I know that’s not the case for everyone.

Anyway, I didn’t want this post to be a long-winded lecture about motivation and pushing yourself to achieve your goals. I am by no means an expert on motivation and nine times out of ten my motivation comes from a feeling of anxiety. Like I said in my last post, I feel anxious when I’m unproductive and adding anxiety on top of my stress is not a good thing.

What I want to talk about is my answer to “so what now?” What comes next for me? Where do I want my life to go from here?

Last October, I turned 26 and officially moved into my “late twenties.” It wasn’t a hard milestone for me. I’m happy with where I am at 26, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what I could possibly regret in another ten years. When I turn 36, will I look back and wish I had had the motivation to get up and do something different with my life?

I am fortunate that I found a career that I really enjoy. When I started college, my plan was to become a writer. Well, I reached that goal and also found out a lot more about what I want from my career. I love event planning and project management and website development. If I went back and asked 17-year-old Emily if she wanted to plan events and make spreadsheets, I’m sure she’d look at me like I’m crazy. The thought never crossed my mind in high school.

So when I ask myself what now, I wonder if I should be trying new things? I know I love my career, but what if there are other opportunities out there? Would I fall in love with donor relations or nonprofit development? I don’t know until I try.

But, I also know that I’m happy where I am. I love my job and my coworkers. I live in a wonderful community, have a loving husband and amazing friends. Should I risk all of those things at the small chance there’s something else out there for me? Maybe, maybe not.

Keeping on that train of thought, if I choose to stay where I am, what’s next? Should I be looking to buy a house? Should I start a family? If I decide to keep on my current path, it would make sense to start putting down real roots. Yes, I have a life here, but I’m still renting an apartment and have made no solid commitments to my community. Should I start doing that? Is that what I want?

Right now, I just have a vague feeling that I should be doing something. Don’t get me wrong, I am making progress toward my goals. I’m working on opening an Etsy shop and I’ve been writing more, but what else will I regret in ten years?

9995fc5ecf7abe34582a61c8205a295eBeing an adult is hard, and not just because there are bills to pay and responsibilities to keep track of, but because there is so much at stake just from day to day. There are also a lot of decisions in front of me that can’t be undone.

So, Daniel, whenever you look at my life and think that I’m hustling and bustling, just remember that I have no f*cking idea what I’m doing. I feel like a 15-year-old who put on mom’s makeup and somehow managed to trick the world into thinking I’m an adult.

-EMS

What will I regret in 2018?

Remember when we used to be timely with our posts, Daniel? I used to write my post Thursday morning, carefully proof read it, and then schedule it to post early Friday morning. Now, I’m lucky to have the post done by the middle of the day on Friday. Eventually, I’ll be routinely posting Friday night at 11:59 p.m.

Anyway, I enjoyed your post about your plan for 2017. I’ve also never been much of a New Year’s resolution person because why wait until January to start a new goal? I also feel like calling a goal a New Year’s resolution just sets you up for failure. How many people do you know who’ve actually followed through with their resolution? I can’t think of a single person in my life.

However, I do have some things I want to accomplish this year, but I don’t want to call them resolutions. Resolutions are something to give up on. Instead, I’ll think of it the way you did, Daniel. At this time next year, what will I regret not doing?

Well, for one, I finally want to write a novel. I have so many half-finished novels lying around and, this year, I want to finish one. This has literally been a goal of mine since I was 15 and I regret not doing it every single year.

I also want to look into self-publishing my novel. I’ve wanted to write books since I was little and now there are so many opportunities for me to do so without the struggle of finding a big name publisher.

I want to open an Etsy shop for my crochet pieces. Everytime I crochet anything the first thing people ask me is “Do you sell anything on Etsy?” My answer has always been no and when they ask me why I don’t have a very good reason. I think I’m just nervous to put myself out there. Well, time for that to change.

I want to read more books. I already read a lot, but I feel like I don’t make it a priority in my life anymore. There are so many books I’ve been meaning to read and there’s no time like the present.

I want to run a half marathon. I’ve run 5ks, 12ks, and Triathlons. Time to step it up a notch.

I want to earn my beer server certification. Now, I know this one seems a little random, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I graduated college. There is a test online that I can take and become a licensed cicerone, which is like a sommelier for beer. Why the heck not? I know a ton about beer already? Why not make it official?

I want to be more aggressive with my freelancing. I’ve been wanting to start freelancing on the side for a long, long time and, much like my Etsy store, I’ve been nervous to put myself out there. Time to change that!

I want to teach myself calligraphy and hand lettering. I’ve always been attracted to words and  I want to turn my words into art. There are so many free tutorials online so there’s honestly nothing standing in my way.

It’s easy for things that you really want to do to end up on the back burner, isn’t it? Well time for that to change. 

-EMS

Creating Your Own Required Reading List

I really enjoyed your post! I absolutely loved reading your rebuttal and almost felt like I was sitting with you out in the garage smoking a cigar. Not to be too sappy, but I felt like I was back home when I read it.

Anyway, that’s not the point of this post. What I really want to do is keep building on this argument. I agreed with everything you said. You should never force yourself to read a book you don’t enjoy just because society said you should. That’s not the point of reading, the point of reading is gaining new knowledge, new perspective, and new ideas.

When I say that there are books out there that you need to read, I’m definitely not saying that you have to read them. You’re not in high school anymore so there’s no weekly reading assignment or list of class books you have to slog your way through. You have the right to choose what you read and don’t read. When I say that there are books you need to read, what I mean is that sometimes there are books you’re not that eager to read, but you really should to reach your goals.

Going back to the food analogy, there are plenty of foods out there that are pretty much unanimously voted to be “good” for us, like cauliflower. On the other hand, there are foods out there that are “bad” for us, like cookies. However, who gets to decide what it means to be good and bad?  When it comes to food, it’s mostly based on nutritional value, but I would argue it should also be based on what you need as an individual.

Cauliflower is a bad food if you’re prepping for a run, it just doesn’t have the carbs you’d need. Cookies are a good food if you’ve had a shitty day and need a pick me. It’s all based on what you need.

Sue

What I gained from The Dresden Files was the image of a wizard riding an undead T-rex. Who could argue with the value of that?

I think this is also true for books. There are plenty of books that English teachers across the country think I should read, like Catcher in the Rye, but I don’t feel like I need to read them because I’m not going to gain anything from them. To be honest, I feel like I’ve gained more from The Dresden Files than I ever would from those books, and you’d be hard pressed to find an English teacher that would assign the tales of Harry Dresden in class.


When it comes to reading, I feel like more people should view it as a tool to grow. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with reading just for pleasure. There’s definitely value in reading a book to relax and I’ve read my fair share of pointless books just because the cover was interesting. What I’m saying is that you should never stray away from reading a book because it’s a challenge, stray away from a book because you don’t want to read it or find no value in it instead.

And, of course, whether something has value is based on what you need, not what some authority figure told you. I decided to read Dante’s Inferno, The Lord of the Rings, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Jungle because I personally decided that I wanted more knowledge on those subjects, not because I found them on some “100 Books You Need to Read to Be Smart” list.

When I say reading for sustenance, what I really mean is that you should figure out what books will sustain who you want to be. Never, ever read a book just because someone told you to.

-EMS

Sustenance in Reading, Sustenance in Pleasure

I’ll open up by saying I don’t entirely disagree with you.  There are many books that have excellent cultural relevance and I would recommend them to people.

My biggest contention with Reading for Pleasure, Reading for Sustenance is the idea that you need to cleanse your palette with a book you should read.  Your analogy was how some books are like cookies and others like vegetables.

Now before you begin writing your retort, I do understand that I shouldn’t take it literally.  I know you would never draw a hard line in the sand, but for the sake of my point I’m going to continue the analogy.

I think with sustenance you shouldn’t tell people to eat their vegetables, but you should convince them the benefits of eating healthier.  I’m sure that’s similar to what you meant!  But there are many books that people have told me to read that sucked.

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Some of the best naps I’ve ever read

The Great Gatsby was a boring and I felt contained a lot of exposition that yanked me out of it.

Tortilla Flats was just a couple of dudes drinking the worlds supply of red wine.

The Catcher in the Rye is a long, meandering story of a kid and his weekend trip to New York.

This isn’t a rule.  Many modern classics are worth a read!  I’m particularly fond of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  However, as you know probably more than me, time and culture change the impact that books start to have.  They become harder to read with time and sometimes I feel they lose their classic status.

Having read many of these classics has taught me how to appreciate symbolism and subtext.  I can tell you why The Great Gatsby is a book about the American Dream.  The Catcher in the Rye is about the fear of growing up.  Tortilla Flats taught me that red wine ruins everything.  Everything.  I probably wouldn’t have liked Bear v. Shark: The Novel as much if I hadn’t read A Brave New World first.

Understanding these nuances in any book makes reading books more interesting.  You start to understand what makes good books good and bad books bad.  You learn to pick books that you like, and learn why you like reading them.

This new understanding makes me want to read more.  You are driven to find more good books.  Books that connect with you.  Books that entertain you.  Reading to attain knowledge, and reading to enjoy yourself.  Like you said, many of these books can be the same!

I think people should learn how to sustain themselves with reading.  Reading should take you somewhere with a purpose that you choose.  Because I’m able to appreciate some of the things in those classics, it helps me understand what I want to read next.  I recently finished At Home by Bill Bryson.  Its essentially a fucking textbook, but reading old histories made me more curious.

So for me, I wouldn’t often try and convince someone that they should read Dante’s Inferno because it’s better for them than, say, Animorphs. I might try and convince them that the book and others like it might make them appreciate what they read more.

When you begin to appreciate what you are putting into your brain you start making varied choices and search for the things that sustain you the most.  Lord of the Rings might secretly teach you that you love poetry, and you go buy a compendium of Emily Dickinson.  The Bible might help you understand religious standpoints, so next you read the Qur’an.  John Carter of Mars might convince you to read Speaker for the Dead because both of those books are dope as fuck.  The Catcher in the Rye might bore you to the point where you never pick up a book again, but thank goodness Barnes and Noble sells board games.

In that case, would it be a bored game?

Forgive me.

So to finish up the analogy:

Emily approaches Daniel and says, “Daniel!  You’ve had far too many cookies!  It is time to for something good for you!  Here is this new and strange vegetable that is nutritious.

“But dearest Emily, if it is so good for us, why don’t more chefs cook with this vegetable?  Or at least have recipes that incorporate this strange and frightening vegetable more?”  Daniel retorts while lowering his monocle.

“It has been at least a year since you’ve ingested anything our elders have deemed healthy!” Emily declares while ironically emptying her stein of beer.

“You make a good point, perhaps instead of eating the bitter roots of their labor, I will go to the market and pick for myself more foodstuffs than simply an enormous pile of cookies that also substitutes as my chair.” says Daniel while he attempts to hide the pizza boxes.

So: I want people to find sustenance in reading and pleasure, instead of feeling like they need to read boring older books to sustain themselves.

And perhaps it’ll stop some of them from going on crazy junk reading binges like the Twilight series.  Go read Anne Rice.  Or Animorphs.

-DTM