2.22.2021

Novel coming later this year: Wicker Park Wishes

I don't know how many people have been reading this blog the entire time, since around 15 years ago, but I've been talking and whining about trying to write fiction for a while. I managed to finish novels and drafts that I ended up throwing out because they were so bad; there was no point in keeping them around. Well, as I said before, I was working on a novel from fall of 2019 to fall of 2020, and after I mentioned that I totally finished it, I ended up sending it to Eckhartz Press. After some months, they said that they wanted to publish it.  

I actually can't believe what I wrote is going to be out there, and I feel sort of sick about it, not because I'm not glad, but because it's actually happening. I've helped other people write with none of my attribution (which is totally fine), and have my own bylines out there, including audio interviews I've done, but this is the first time that a novel will have my name on it. 

I've contacted some people to review it, and they'll be getting a copy when it comes out, which is later this year. Thankfully, one of the people who read the book pre-publication had this to say, and this is not a fake review; this is her honest opinion:

Margaret has a way of writing about Chicago and transporting the reader back to a time before the Internet was a part of daily life, before we were tethered to our cell phones and when you actually called people to make plans and have interpersonal relationships. "Wicker Park Wishes" really takes me back to the 1990s with Margaret's artful and accurate style of writing, and the descriptions of Chicago neighborhoods from that time make me feel as if I am really there. She does a great job painting a picture of Chicago without making it seem forced. 
— Tina E. Akouris

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1.29.2021

Briefly talking to a human offset a ton of screen time

I was making a list of all the activities I did over the past couple of days online and on my computer, and you'd think I had the most dynamic work and social life ever. But all I was doing was looking and speaking into a screen, and the flat experience made me feel disconnected and down. 

Now to some folks, not interacting with people IRL and spending hours in front of a machine is a fantastic lifestyle. But to me and I suspect millions of others, it's a way of dehumanizing our existence. The architects of technology probably imagined a world that's efficient and does not have to be messed up by small-talking humans, so they've pretty much gotten what they've wanted. But to those of us who actually like heartbeats and laughs, it's been challenging, and spending time online socializing is two-dimensional.

Even though I socialized and taught online the past couple of days, and got a lot of non-people-related work done on my high-quality Mac that has a large screen, decent sound, and a sharp graphical interface, I still felt like I barely existed. I even walked outside surrounded by snow, lights, and notable architecture, but I still felt like I was some kind of detached machine that had unplugged from another. It wasn't until I went to the store to get a few items that I finally snapped out of it. All I did was order something from the deli, and when the person working behind the counter (and plexiglass) asked me to repeat what I said, I joked that one day we won't have to try to figure out what each other is saying through masks, and she nodded, and then I thanked her for taking care of my order. I don't know why that broke my automaton sensation, but I felt like someone had opened the door and cut the cord and allowed me to live in the real world again. 

I think it's because I had a spontaneous interaction with someone, and it wasn't work-related. I'm lucky that I can go to an essential job a few times a week, but there aren't many people there and they're all busy in a high-pressure situation, so even if we do chat, it doesn't feel like a break but a tense reprieve. And being at home for hours in a room getting stuff done and feeling more empty after scrolling through social media doesn't fix the problem, even though my productivity has increased. Having online meetups is better than nothing, but it all still makes me feel flat. I am conforming to the screen, not moving or interacting with anything three-dimensional, and I still have to fake introversion to keep things together. I feel like my face has become a wall, because I don't want people to misinterpret my expressions, so I try not to have any. And if I smile (barely), it's still an act, because I'm trying to stay in control of my screen image. 

And then there's this: part of the flurry of my online experience was a seminar that was led by a very talented speaker whose lectures I'd attended offline before. And that person managed to be animated and dynamic on screen, so they seemed to effectively transform their offline presentation to the digital space. But it was like what I'd observed before the pandemic: the person was really friendly and interactive, but I know they're really not like that. Yes, they're yet another person who seems to be so into people, but it might just be an act: one time we were heading in the same direction, and I was the only one who could drive them several miles back to where they were staying. I assumed that since they were so into people and so talkative, we'd have a conversation during the trip back to the city. But they didn't want to talk and didn't initiate any conversation. So the talkative, energetic, seemingly people-oriented person, who makes money from working with and helping people, wasn't really that way; they were withdrawn and awkward. So remembering their outgoing act became part of my excessive screen deflation and just reinforced the fact that it's much better to meet authentic people, especially offline. 

1.20.2021

I love waking up early

A while ago, I had a part-time job that was not exactly the most thrilling situation. It wasn't bad, and the work was honest in a decent place, but it wasn't very stimulating. An introvert or person who doesn't want to deal with people would've loved it, but since I'm not introverted (thus had to fake introversion, as usual), it was difficult for me. Then I found a great article written by Jennifer Winter that gives advice when you hate your job.

There are three tips: get up early, make plans, and make a list. I actually applied all of them, and it helped get me through the situation. But the first point stuck with me because I ended up loving waking up early. I took her advice and woke up some minutes before usual, then it ended up being a couple of hours before departure time. I would watch TV, read, eat, drink coffee, and even nap. Then I would go to work, and I would feel better because I'd had a couple of hours to do what I wanted. It became a habit to the point that when I later got an additional part-time job, I woke up very early (though I was too tired), got to the job before it opened, and wrote in my fake blog or worked on my Nanowrimo project or just read. Then when that job started, I'd spent some time doing what I wanted, and I felt motivated.

I currently don't have any dreaded jobs, but I still like to wake up very early. The exception is if my work hours are tough; sometimes I end work at 1:00 AM, and sometimes I start work at 2:30 AM. I cannot handle waking up at midnight before going to work before dawn; I would probably collapse. But in normal situations, I often wake up early.

For instance, today I woke up before 5 AM, and I don't have to be anywhere until 8:30. I ate, drank coffee, spaced out, watched TV, read stuff online, sent emails, and am now writing this. Since I have to work late tonight, I'll probably take a nap later, or if I can't sleep, I'll do other stuff. But there's something about waking up early and doing stuff in my own space in the relatively quiet hours of the morning (unless there's drama or trucks or sirens outside) that is refreshing and motivating. It's like the day is blank and I can put on it what I want, and not many people are privy to the freshness. When I was free on Sunday mornings (now I usually work before dawn), I would wake up early and do things before I had to be anywhere. When I walked outside, I saw other early-risers, and it was as if the city was ours. Then later, the general public would join in, and it's like our exclusive early club was over, and we had to share the area with lots of other people.

Of course, I am not perfectly disciplined, so I have woken up at a normal time. But it's not the same because I'm in the rush with others, and I'm just trying to catch up. Also, if I have to be somewhere, there's not much space to ramp up to departure time, so there's no time-gift waiting for me; I'm just functioning and getting things done. And if I really sleep late, which is rare, my mood dampens and I can even end up with a headache. 

Basically, every time I wake up early, it's like the day is greeting me and letting me know that there are possibilities. The sun is breaking through the darkness and the beginning of the day is saying it's possible to start over or try something new. Sounds like I'm trying to be cleverly creative in my description, but I'm trying to honestly convey what I feel when I wake up early. Right now, I see the sun hitting the top of a building nearby, and it's letting me know that another day is opening up, and there are still things left to strive for and work to get done (because I actually have to get a lot done today and tonight...I'm definitely busy this week).