Optimism…

… in times of finance.

My usual New Years’ resolution is trying to be a bit more optimistic and to try and stop worrying about things before I lose what’s left of my hair. Having spend the three decades of my existence trying, I’m glad to say I’m finally getting a little better at it. Slowly but surely.

I started 2012 with, once again, the solid conviction to be optimistic and (reasonably) free of worries this year. I was doing fairly well until things at work once again entered one of those occasional periods of problems piling onto problems and said problems pouring in regardless of what you try to do about it.

These happen occasionally, and if they didn’t, I guess I’d get suspicious (I’m just that much of an optimist). It’s like the monsoon; when it rains it pours and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from immediate crisis management. All the more reason not to get too worked up about it, You’d think.

However, I notice that I still keep thinking about such things, even during that most holy part of the week: the weekend.

And it’s not even as if my job is seriously on the line or anything. It’s also not the fact that this particular issue is about -gasp- money(!!!), which seems to be enough to turn the average librarian into a frenzied killing machine. Maybe weirdness going on at work is more like an excuse to worry about something? A strange idea, and yet that may be exactly it.

However, I’m still devoted to maintaining a certain level of optimism this year; budgetary woes at work and incessantly nagging organisational problems be damned. Because the real trick, I suppose, is exercising optimism despite that sort of thing going on every now and then.

Like I said: I’m still getting better at this optimism bit. Little by little.

Critique group meetings…

…another adventure in literary masochism.

Sometime last year I joined a critique group.
It is in many respects the ideal group: they focus on genre fiction (it’s nice not being the only one attempting sci-fi or comedy for once) and don’t pull any punches when it comes to giving constructive feedback. Which was more or less exactly what I was looking for. Still, I was sweating bullets when my latest submission was up last Monday.

I notice that in a creative hobby like writing fiction it can be surprisingly easy to believe, at least on some level, that you might well be some kind of undiscovered genius. And that you could totally make it big if only you would magnanimously allow the benighted masses to discover your work. Actually stepping out and presenting your writing for close scrutiny by others can be daunting then, because it will invariably end with this subconscious illusion being shattered.
But you have to have that illusion shattered, if only so that you can see how far you still have to go (and there’s always a little further left to go). Because like any craft/hobby, writing only stays interesting if you continue to learn and improve yourself.

But with writing also being the very personal thing it is and seeing how I construct my self-image entirely around the way others perceive me (as any emotionally well-balanced human being does, naturally), this process can be pretty painful.
It can sting to hear someone say that this or that lovingly constructed scene just doesn’t do anything for her. Or that this or that beloved side-character just isn’t funny and doesn’t add anything to the plot. And with a preferred genre like comedy I’m practically begging for punishment; humor after all being inherently subjective.
Come to think of it; I’m a Dutchman with a fondness for British humor in a group that has three Americans, one German and an Australian in it.
Yup, I am begging for it…
 
Ouchie.

It’s still a good run.

Say what you will about my grandfather, but he sure knows how to give us all a good scare. Now that it seems (thank god!) that he’ll be staying with us for a while longer, I feel compelled to collate on matters a bit. Hence my first blog in quite a few weeks.

About two weeks ago I was called by my parents; granddad had been rushed off to hospital with severe chest pains.

While unexpected, this didn’t come entirely out of nowhere; we all knew he had heart troubles. A number of years ago he’d already suffered a heart attack. He’d been on medication for ages. And only a week before, equipment troubles at the hospital had interrupted a heart examination and postponed his already planned angioplasty.

Still, his hospitalisation came as a shock, especially since things looked seriously bad. They couldn’t do the angioplasty any more; he’d become so weak it would do him more harm then good.

Scans also revealed that he’d suffered from a series a minor strokes over the course of the last few years. This explained why he’d noticeably grown, well…old over the last few years; he’d become much quieter, much less active and much more withdrawn then he’d been before.

By Tuesday, the doctor told us to prepare for the worst.

What probably impressed me the most was the way grandma took the news. As she herself put it; they’d been very happy together for a very long time. And looking back, she saw many more good times than bad ones. She’d still be grieved to see him go, of course, but she was grateful for the good run they’d had together.

I guess you learn to put things in perspective by the time you’re past eighty.

But then, granddad surprised both his doctors and us by recovering somewhat. Granted, he was still in bad shape, but by Thursday he was just a bit stronger and considerably more clear-headed then he’d been at the start of the week. We only dared to breathe a sigh of relief when this trend continued the next day and into the weekend.

That’s not to say that all is well again. It seems almost certain that he’ll need permanent care at a nursing home. He’ll also need a walker, and he’s still weak, restless and occasionally confused about where (and when) he is, depending on his medication.

But he’s still with us and even still improving slowly. And no less important; he’s also glad to still be here. The future is uncertain; at the moment we have no idea if he’ll be still with us for weeks, or months, or for years. But he’s still here and for the moment, that’s already something I am very thankful for. Because at the moment, we’re still having a good run together.

Vacation…

…retroactive fun!

Quite a lot of people I know occasionally comment on how much of a hassle going on vacation really is.

And fair enough, they do have a point there. The old adage that vacation is hard work is true; there’s the booking (well in advance, or woe betide thee), the actual travelling to your destination and then the implacable need to “do things” while you’re there, even though you just feel like sleeping in most of the time.

On top of all that, it’s often also quite an expensive undertaking. Depending on where you’re going, one vacation abroad can cost up to several thousand Euro’s, and all for the luxury of not being able to use your own toilet or sleep in your own bed for a few weeks.

Finally, And I don’t know if others have the same experience, somewhere deep within me still lurks the old childish fear of getting lost and never being able to find your way home again. I find myself checking Google Maps days in advance to see exactly where the hotel is, and I wonder what will happen if I were to lose my way somewhere amongst all those abstract little lines and rectangles on the map.

Also: I make a point of not watching any of those delightful National Geographic shows like Locked up Abroad and Air Crash Investigation. Which seem to serve no other purpose then to dissuade people from going anywhere, ever. Seriously, it’s almost like that one scene in The Truman Show, with the “It could happen to YOU” posters at the travel agency. Do you enjoy crushing people’s spirits, NG? Do you? I sure hope so because you seem to be spending a lot of time doing it.

All the same, I still like going on vacation. Despite all the hassle, despite the costs involved and yes, despite the lingering, irrational, subconscious fear that I’ll somehow never make it back.

After coming home, I always consider the whole experience worthwhile, albeit in largely the same way that I consider the experience of clipping my nails worthwhile afterwards. Vacation isn’t really fun for me, at least not in the conventional sense, when I’m actually busy vacationing. It’s just something I’m rushing trough, day by day, taking pictures and seeing things and trying to sleep despite the inevitable nocturnal lumber-mill impressions coming from other group members. But invariably, after coming home I know I wouldn’t want to have missed it.

Vacation; it’s retroactive fun for all the family!

Wonderful spam…

…always good for a laugh.

The spam filter at my work must be the single most gullible entity on the face of the planet. Seriously, there are degenerate subspecies of flatworm living in deep ocean trenches less likely to fall for any type of scam then our spam filter.

Which is unfortunate, since we only keep getting more and more scam e-mails (like pretty much everyone does, really). On the bright side, most of these mailings are also pretty easy to spot.

Personally though, by now I’ve come to regard them more as a weird kind of entertainment then as a real nuisance. Here’s three of my favourites, in reverse order. These amused me, albeit in ways probably best not dwelled upon too closely.

3: Our IT department has suddenly started corresponding English. Very, very badly.

Long story short; the spammer claimed to be working for the IT department at the school where I work (okay). He told me there was some kind of problem with a lot of school mail accounts (fair enough), and that they needed my login name and password to solve the problem (okay, I’ll just e-mail you my…wait a minute!).

Apart from that last bit, all this sounds at least fairly convincing. Except that the e-mail was written in English, and they had sent it to a university in the Netherlands. And while I freely admit that the Dutch language is at least fairly obscure, at least bother to give us some better English than “for wanting to solve the problems with of in post server”, people! Come on!

2: I graciously offer myself a job.

Most spam mails just randomly make up a less-then convincing name as the supposed sender, often something like “Judas S. McFaiknaime” or “Fauksmail, son of Spamhor”.

Most recipients/potential scamming victims will be able to spot these. However, the writer of this totally legitimate job offer had come up with an ingenuous new tactic: signing the mail with the addressee’s own name! Presumably reasoning that “who does anyone trust if not themselves?”

Of course this mail also included some linguistic gems like “you can screw up to 2.300 dollars a month”. Which I can only assume was a grammatical error, since the job offer also ominously neglected to specify what the job was supposed to be.

1: The U.S. Department of State wants to sell me a “premium” green card.

This must be the most beautifully crafted, best researched spam mail I have ever seen. It used the name of an actual department of the actual United States of America. It had enough soaring eagles on it to single-handedly turn the once-endangered bald eagle into a common pest. It even made mention of an actually existing visa lottery. In short: it would all have been pretty convincing if it hadn’t been for a number of… interesting phrases like “this is actually a big confusion” and the fact that apparently the US government is now so hard up for money they sell green cards for 180 Euro’s apiece.

Still, it looked really, really nice. Somewhere, someone put a lot of loving care in bringing the world this slightly less transparent e-mail scam.

Somehow, I can see e-mail scams like these eventually evolving into a legitimate art form one day.

Missing Bricks…

…and life in a quantum-administrative universe.

Ours is a time (by which I mean June) of mysteries; last night I noticed there were bricks missing from the front facade of the flat where I live.

And not just one or two here and there, mind you. There’s a number of big, gaping holes in the walls, through which bare concrete and rags of isolation foam are visible. On the upside, this does explain that strange sound, much like that of a jackhammer tearing into a brick wall, that could occasionally be heard in the distance these last few weeks. Once again Occram’s Razor holds true, as the simplest explanation for this phenomenon turns out to have been the correct one: that sound much like a jackhammer was the sound of a jackhammer.

However, what this still doesn’t explain is what the hell is going on. I’m reminded of the fate of the Egyptian pyramids; which were stripped down over the centuries to provide building materials for houses, storehouses and other, more mundane structures. But unless I actually happen to spot some kind of colossal monolith being build out of suspiciously familiar-looking bricks scavenged from local houses, flats and storerooms, I don’t really believe that is the most likely explanation.

Another minor mystery is where that other man who apparently lives in my house is hiding. Last week I recieved a letter adressed to some stranger, who nevertheless has the exact same adress as I do. I’ve searched the appartment, but was unable to find him. He doesn’t appear to be living out of any of the closets, or from under my bed, or from the bike shed downstairs. I am therefore forced to conclude that the building company may have made a mistake of some kind. Unfortunately, it also seems their administrators are more comfortable with dealing with some kind of strange administrative quantum-flux, where two persons simultaneously do and do not occupy the same adress, then with the possibility that they may have put the wrong adress under the wrong name. Once again:  the mystery continues.

So it is a strange and enigmatic world I’m living in, this month. A world where strange men are and yet at the same time are not my roommates. A place where parts of buildings mysteriously vanish in broad daylight. It’s all both exciting and slightly frightening, and I’m actually fairly certain the building company is behind both enigmas.

Writing Daily…

…can be hard!

But that will hardly be news to anyone who’s ever tried it.

One of the various reasons why I started this blog was to get myself to write more. When you already have a job and various other hobbies, it’s all too easy to let the writing slip into obscurity. That something you’ll perpetually get around sometime tomorrow, honest, no, really this time.  As one creative writing teacher once told me: “what most people really want is to have written, rather then to write.” She may have had a point there.

I notice it becomes even harder when writing is already part of your day job. Sure, my boss doesn’t pay me to write humorous science fiction (for some reason I have never been able to convince her why she totally should), the stuff I write for work isn’t nearly as interesting as most fiction and some fact.  But when you’re already looking at a screen full of text eight hours of every weekday, it’s hard to muster up enthousiasm for doing essentially more of the same for another one, two, three hours more in the evening. Much easier to put it off until tomorrow and go do something else, like a brisk round of channel surfing.

Another factor that I find makes it harder to keep writing is inspiration, which may be even more of an obvious giveaway as far as causes for not-writing go. But it’s still a valid point; what does one write about every day? Originally that was one of my excuses for not having a blog. Now, I’m actually hoping that frequent blogging will keep the creative glands working after office opening hours. Especially since said glands fortunately tend to keep buzzing for a while once you’ve got them started with, say, penning a brilliantly inspired blogpost.

Whether this is going to work I don’t know yet, of course. It is one of my many hackneyed schemes to keep myself writing. But if nothing else, it got me to write another blogpost. That’s good. Another piece of writing I didn’t put off until tomorrow!