zee pause café

taking a moment, having a coffee, writing down some thoughts

from creative writing to creative typing (or a brief history of the dead cursive scrolls)

at the age of five, i was in grade one. i had graduated from the gardens of kinder and joined my older siblings in the mature world of number grades. i was learning to read, to perfect my ABCs and to tell time. the world was bringing on a whole new meaning and i was soaking it in. i certainly wasn’t the best pupil in the class and often faked coughing when i wasn’t sure of how to read a word, but i was progressing and that was clear.

at the age of seven, i had moved up to grade three. and i knew this was a defining stage in my life as equally important as joining the world of numbers two years prior. or maybe more so because grade three marked the point when i would learn cursive writing. whenever my mother wrote a note or signed a permission slip for me, i was always in awe of how her hand moved so elegantly on the page without ever lifting from the paper except to dot her Is and cross her Ts. now that i was in grade three, i too would learn the art of elegant penmanship and the ultimate sign of expression.

and i loved it. i had always had a knack for drawing and so learning how to write each letter, lower case by lower case, upper case by upper case, and then connecting them all together, felt like i had exited my cocoon and grown wings. it was so many things all at once: writing, thinking, calculating and most of all, it was beautiful.

jumping ahead to my first year of university, to follow lectures in a room full of 1200 other students required the art of quickwrite. i cursively spun bullets, sentences and – at least once a week due to too much horsing around and not enough rest – cursive drooping flatlines as my head and hand bopped up and down out of sleep. but armed with me the entire four years of my undergrad, as well as my masters to follow, was the parker pen my father had given to me as a high school graduation present. it was a tradition actually; we were all sent off to university with a suitcase of clothes, some notepaper and our very own parker pen. its power would guide us the rest of the way. and so it did (in some cases miraculously, i must admit).

my love for cursive writing is as strong today as it was when i was seven, even if i do cheat the odd time with a mix of printing and cursive when scribbling notes. whilst writing my masters thesis on the ethnological development of french writer, annie ernaux, part of my creative writing process was to first write each chapter down on paper. and the neater i wrote it, the better my ideas seemed to flow, that is to say, i was satisfied with them. once i was happy with my beautifully written art, i would then transcribe it to my computer so that i could print it out and give it to my adviser for review. and this is how i graduated with honours. i may have had the odd original idea in there too but i firmly believe that my mighty parker and its partner in crime, papyrus, led the way for me.

it’s been nearly ten years since i completed my masters. from there i flew over the atlantic and started my first job as a publications officer for an NGO in europe. and guess what, my creative cursive skills were no longer ‘required’. it’s not that i didn’t want them and didn’t need them, but imagine sitting down at your desk in your first job writing content and your boss sees you scribbling away on a notepad before typing it all out on the computer. if i wanted to keep my job, i simply couldn’t do it. therefore, i had to learn how to survive without parker and go directly to the keyboard and screen.

it was really hard; not just at first but for a long time. i had spent the previous seventeen years of my life figuring things out on pieces of paper. i even had a journal that i had kept up since i was nine to write down my thoughts and report on the news of the day. straight to the hard drive was way different and it took me a lot of time to get used to it. and oh, i had a lot to learn! backspace, enter and spell check were no longer good enough. in addition to having to write with the keyboard, i needed to learn how to do it efficiently. in other words: keyboard shortcuts. select all, copy/paste, undo/redo… a.k.a.: ctrl a, ctrl x/v, ctrl z/shift z.

a few years ago, i stopped writing in my journal. it was a conscious decision because i felt that over the course of time all i was writing were reports on the things that made me unhappy in life. i wrote very rarely and when i did, it was more a rhyming off of whatever was bothering me, chronologically event by event. by the time i was done with the “what happened” bit, i was exhausted and had no energy left to express how, whatever it was, affected me. more than a few times, i signed off with, “well, i’m tired, so going to bed.” i compare my writing at that time to a cop jotting down the elements of the scene of the crime but with not one hypothesis on what the possible cause might have been. and in my case, it certainly wasn’t going to ‘solve’ anything. on an even sadder note, about four years ago i lost parker while out one night at a bar with friends. once the sword of my writing, parker had become nothing more than a tool at the bottom of my purse for keeping phone numbers and making grocery lists. and so after all this, i decided that writing in my journal was no longer good for me and i gave it up altogether. in ‘real life’ i was a happy and positive person but on paper i was a negative writer. and with that, i thought i should instead focus on the positive – and, at least for now, to do so off paper.

lately, due to a massive helping of extra time on my hands, i’ve been thinking about writing again. and this is why i started writing a/this blog. i know, i know; for someone who grew up loving cursive writing by hand, why am i embarking on this new endeavor with the keyboard? the truth is, there are two reason. first, i don’t want to fall back into being a negative writer, only picking up my journal when something’s bothering me. second, and i think more of an issue, is that although i have not lost my love for cursive writing, i think i’ve lost my expressive side for it. and to be honest, i don’t think i can live without keyboard shortcuts. my creative writing has literally gone creative typing. i need to be able to copy/paste sentences here, throw them up there, select all the bad ones and hit delete. i don’t seem to be capable of figuring that out in my head from the start anymore. wow, i just realized that as i wrote it. and now i wonder: is this a bad thing? maybe, maybe not. i don’t know.

i told my fiance a few weeks ago that i’d started writing again. just jotting thoughts down on my computer, i said. yesterday was valentine’s day and as a gift, he offered me a very nice leather-bound journal. he thought that since i was starting to write again, and understood that so far it was on my computer, i might want to start a new paper journal when i was ready. and i love the journal. and i’m excited to write cursively in it. however, what i was reminded of very quickly was that i have lost the expressive side for it. so, if you can believe it, i am writing here (on my computer) and thinking of transcribing this later into my journal (yes, with a pen on paper) to see how it feels. amazing how a process that once got me through a masters degree has now gone 180 degrees. i’m actually considering transcribing from typed screen to written paper. am i perhaps being just a little too crazy about this?

overall, hopefully not. ten years ago you couldn’t have convinced me that i would today write more comfortably with a keyboard than with my trusty parker, so who knows what this next experimental process might bring. why not? the most important thing is that i am writing again. and not about the events of the day nor (just) the negative. and so far i’m having fun doing it. i don’t actually know if i have any great writing talent per say, but i genuinely enjoy doing it. i always have and so, for now, i’m simply happy to be back at it and up for experimenting with it. experimenting is what creative writing is all about after all… isn’t it? perhaps this is part of my own ethnological journey in writing.

so, let’s see what happens next – on paper and on screen.

what’s so wrong with valentine’s day anyway?

today is valentine’s day. stemming from a martyred st. valentinus nearly two-thousand years ago, to geoffrey chaucer’s parliament of foules in the fifteenth century, to today’s eating of chocolate and cinnamon hearts and the exchange of cute love poems and cards… why is it that people get downright foul about a day that celebrates love?

when i was a little girl, it was one of the year’s highlights to exchange valentine’s day cards with my friends; to spend the day cutting, colouring and gluing pink, red and white hearts all over the classroom; to bring home a poem i’d written on one of these hearts for my mom to tell her how much i loved her (and to feel proud of her praising words of my basic poetic skill); to eat mouthfuls of cinnamon hearts so that my teeth turned red; and, if we could manage, to have a special valentine’s day dessert at home to finish off the day of love.

those were the days! and to be frank, they still are the days for me! love is love. sure, it’s a great day for couples to celebrate being in love, but it’s not only for them. and it’s not only for stores to make money, and as some people put it, for stores to take advantage of you. and it’s certainly not intended to make singletons feel bad.

i have been single for most of my life and i’ve never considered bashing valentine’s day. in fact, i usually go out and buy myself a chocolate heart or two (what other day of the year can you do that, i say?) have fun making valentine’s day desserts, and chat with my family and friends on both sides of the atlantic. i may not be cutting red and pink hearts out of construction paper anymore, but i’m still celebrating almighty love, love, love. okay, so i would rarely go out for a romantic dinner with some stud who would shower me with flowers and chocolate – but if that’s all people think it’s about, well then i say, come on people! grow a heart!

while christmas may not be a religious holiday that everyone observes, it has become a time for family and friends to get together, be merry and offer each other gifts (and the gift of being together the best of all). while valentine’s origin is of a christian saint, it’s a day for everyone. go out and kiss someone. send flowers to that person who lifts your heart (whether they know it or not). tell your family you love them. and smile! it’s valentine’s day so go celebrate the best thing about being human and not robot: humans love.

the bigger the better: from cupcakes to triceps, why are people so obsessed with size?

it was the superbowl last weekend and while i don’t really like football (much more of a soccer fan myself), i decided to make cute football field cupcakes for my first american superbowl experience. after all, you don’t have to like the game to enjoy the party. anyway, the cupcakes turned out great but there were eight leftover. and i’m home alone this week. what to do?

as i contemplated throwing them away to avoid devouring each and every one of them until they morphed into a michelin spare tire around my waist, i thought, “well, hey, compared to the cupcakes you can buy in the store, my homemade ones are at least half the size. they can’t be that bad, right?” which has moved me to contemplate something scarier: who actually eats the massive cupcakes in the store?

when cupcakes first became hugely popular about ten years ago, i was loving the craze. cute little individual cakes instead of one large one for special occasions like weddings, birthdays, etc. and this way it’s smaller and, to boot, a unique work of art in itself to be admired and then yummily devoured. but as many things go, even cute little cupcakes have gone the way of steroid marketing. recently, i walked into a cupcake shop and was horrified at each creation. they were like oversized muffins with motorized icing trains running around them. they got so artistic and that they had to grow in size to keep up. and how do you eat a cupcake with a windmill on it, anyway? as soon as you take a bite, it’s spun right out onto your napkin. it’s like the devastation of dropping my ice cream cone on the pavement as a kid all over again.

as i thought about my cupcake dilemma “to throw out, or to not throw out” over coffee this morning, i decided to eat one. and that, in a good way, gave me the idea of going to the gym and contemplating the question some more over some healthy exercise to burn it off. but as i got on the bike machine, i started to notice that gym goers are not so different from cupcakes. as time goes by, and popularity rises, they too aim to get bigger.

at my gym, i get the impression that most guys there are trying to get bigger. bigger triceps, bigger biceps, bigger pecks. what are obliques anyway? what ever happened to just being fit and healthy? that’s always been the most attractive look to me. it actually scares me that someone “trains” to look like a marvel superhero but doesn’t have the goal of fighting evil at the end of the day. and why would i want to make out with someone who is physically capable of throwing me to the ceiling and crushing my body with their thights. some people train for soccer, to lose weight, to be healthier. others just ‘train’. but for what? something just doesn’t seem right to me.

i don’t think i’m going to throw out the cupcakes. but maybe i can have one after the gym. that’s it: i’m training to eat cupcakes. at least i’ve got an end goal that makes sense to me and possibly others, right?

embracing small talk and loving american customer service

when my friends in europe ask me how life compares in the US, there are naturally a lot of things that come to mind, both good and bad. one good one, however, that sticks out for me when i answer this question is how incredibly nice people are over here. there is of course the ‘too nice’ approach which can come off as artificial and downright annoying; but what i’m entranced with at the moment is the genuinely nice side of customer service in the US.

example: if i look lost in the grocery store, someone – without fail – asks me if they can help and then proceeds to drop whatever they’re doing to show me exactly where the item i can’t find for the life of me really is. and then they ask if there is anything else they can help me with. and it’s not a line; their face shows that they are actually wanting to help me even more. at the end of it, it is they who probably think i’m the weird one because of my overwhelming gratitude. to them, they’re just doing their job. being polite and helpful is part of the job.

try that in europe: i can’t find something and so one i am fully frustrated, i ask a guy who is stocking shelves. he immediately tells me, “i don’t know, sorry.” to his credit, he does tell me to ask someone else and when i do that, the second person’s response is one with a tinge of annoyance because i’ve mentioned that their colleague suggested i ask them and so they can’t use his original line. but the help does take place and i get what i’m looking for. but the question of helping me further never comes. it’s universally understood that since the item was indeed in the store, i should have found it myself in the first place, thus any further finds should come from my part. after all, gotta grow up some day.

the amount of times that I have apologized profusely to a european shopkeeper for interrupting their personal phone call about the tough love their friend should be giving their 18 month old is ridiculous. but i guess it’s a question of perspective. their job is to ring up what you’re ready to buy not to help you find what you’re looking for in the hope that you will buy it and therefore make them more money. they don’t work on commission and they’re not going to go out of their way. fair enough. hey, they’re not my employees so why should i worry about it? to each their own.

therefore, coming to the US leaves me speechless with all this helpful and friendly chatter. but i like it! so now, i’m working on being chatty myself. when someone asks me how i’m doing while ringing up my groceries, i’m getting used to answering right back: “fine thanks! and yourself? all set for the superbowl?” see, i’m ready with my own question now too! and it’s nice! it’s really nice. i still have a long way to go in terms of polishing up on my friendly-banter skills but so far, so fun!

as for the negative side of friendly customer service, it most definitely exists and most definitely gets on my nerves. but i’ll leave that for another day. for now, i’m in cahoots with friendly public society and don’t need to worry myself about anything else.

the adjustment bureau: making new friends when you’re no longer in your twenties

after living abroad in europe for the last eight years, i’m back in north america. and i have to say, social networking (read: real life people socializing face-to-face) is somehow a lot more challenging. i wonder if it’s a question of decades.

having trouble making new friends in a new city didn’t cross my mind because my social track record has a 100% ease rating; making friends has never been hard if you’re a nice, outgoing, but not totally neurotic, person like me. another reason it didn’t cross my mind was because i actually had a few friends in the city even before landing. so all is well, right? start with a few solid connections, then collect new ones. easy peasy. like picking daisies.

well, i feel that it’s more like pulling shrubs. shrubs with thick roots in flower beds that are already pretty full. and of course i’m not looking to deroot anyone. i mean, it’s normal to have your close-knit group that you’ve been hanging with for years, feel comfortable with and life is good. but where does that leave someone new like me? so far, it ain’t easy. did i miss my window of opportunity? and if so, just what am i going to do.

so here comes the theory: when you’re in your twenties and in a new city, you are amongst so many like-situationed people. They want friends, you want friends, you find each other, and bam. friendship. in your thirties, it should be ever easier, right? you’ve had a decade to learn how to socialize, to recognize yourself in the newbie crowd and start chatting with anyone. unfortunately, that’s not the way the cookie is crumbling right now. i almost feel like people (here) have gone in the opposite direction: if you’re at a party and clearly don’t know anyone, someone will come up to you and start talking to you, right? apparently, not necessarily. alternatively you can go up to a group and introduce yourself, right? correct, but why is it that the people in the group look at you like some kind of weirdo for doing so?

all that said, i have met some cool folks and really enjoy hanging out with them. i guess it just hasn’t snowballed into as many more new friendships as i thought it would, and has in the past. and the last thing i want to do is suffocate these few new friends by overwhelming them with my presence.

other observations: i’ve gone to a few networking events where people don’t seem to want to mingle. what’s up with that? i joined a sports team but whenever i ask for a ride no one offers even though they come in their own cars solo. i even hosted a party with my fiance at home and didn’t even get a reply from over 90% of the invitees. really?

i don’t know. it’s a new ball game but i’m not giving up because i know i’m not that horrible of a person, i.e., i’m not trying to blame everyone else for not wanting to hang out with me. maybe a new set of tactics, like a new set of letters in the middle of a scrabble game. after all, you can’t get a triple word score without playing out a few low-scoring words first, right?

will unemployment force me to become a hit?

for the first time in my life, i am unemployed. at no other time in my life have i been un-anything. i’ve either been in school, in a summer job, in an internship, in a ‘real’ job…. but now i’m in unland.

it’s been 5 months. and i’ve been all over the map. from complete confidence i’m-going-to-knock-their-socks-off, to rock bottom i’m-so-never-ever-going-to-get-hired-by-anyone. but unexpectedly, i think something new, scary, and possibly very good for me might happen. i might just hire myself.

(pick up coffee. sip.)

i know, i’m not being very avant-garde about this. many a deadbeat (hopefully like me) have been shone upon by the jobless life and come up above the entire pack. in my case, i’m still a bit unsure about this possibility for myself. first off, i kind of feel like i have a crappy degree. it’s a double major and i do have a masters to boot, but alas, most people have degrees, right? so they’re all kind of crappy anyway… so i shouldn’t neither feel bad nor threatened. what i do have going for me is experience – and apparently that trumps even a great degree a lot of the time. which means: i don’t have much of an excuse to not go forth and conquer with my dirty boots and weird ideas. right?

but for all the ideas i have, i am not business savvy and fear what i see in all those corporate back-stabbing thrillers: i’ll have the most amazing idea ever; however, i’ll have zero money to back it up, zero infrastructure to give a demo and some twerp will love it and then just take the idea (the back stabbing cue) as his/her own because he/she actually knows what i don’t know how to do.

(sip.)

i shouldn’t let that stop me though, right? i have to be all strong and just start typing away, ‘pitching’ away (to the wall for now) and give it my best shot. or i could just write about the idea of doing it and talk the talk and leave someone else to do the walking.

what does keep me intrigued though is that lots of great ideas simply don’t come to light because one didn’t try. i’ve had “lots” of ideas over the years that i then see in action and say, “omg, i totally thought about that like ten years ago and now that dude is rich. f*ck.” so i may as well try at least one out. the worst that could happen is that i say the exact above but make the sentence longer by inserting in the middle a, “… and i did try to do it myself but it didn’t work…” and maybe that’s a better sentence after all.

so until the next coffee.

(sip.)

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