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Life update: Having my cake and eating avo toast

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Sunday afternoon saw us driving frantically across Cape Town trying to hit as many Checkers stores as we could before closing time.

 

Why? Because I want to have a cake this year for my birthday and I don’t want to have to bake it myself. 

 

It’s interesting how times have changed. A few years back I was determined to make “trying a fantastic new cake recipe” a birthday tradition. But that was before eating flour was a no-no. 

 

The first birthday that I spent gluten intolerant, I baked a cake that tasted like cardboard and that no one in the office was brave enough to try (I literally ate the whole thing minus I think three pieces accepted by people too polite to decline). The next year, I drove around with my mom on the day itself trying to seek out somewhere – anywhere – that could offer me a slice of gluten-free cake while we had tea and exchanged gossip. Alas, we were unsuccessful in our quest and I eventually ended up with a puddle of what was deemed “cheesecake” but was actually an overpriced sour lump of white mush. The only thing we ended up trading over our tea were tears of frustration. 

 

(There’s a lesson here about prioritising treats over experiences… but I clearly haven’t learned it yet. )

 

Last year I just gave up and got a muffin. 

 

Cardboard cake
The mighty Cardboard Cake (Astros for decoration only – not gluten free).

 

This year, being a big birthday, I wanted to plan ahead. There is exactly one brand that does pre-made, vacuum-sealed sponge cakes. (Doesn’t that just sound tasty?) I’ve tried them and am pleased to report that they do, in fact, taste better than the Cardboard Cake of 2014. A lovely friend of mine who bakes and decorates cakes professionally even offered to stack a few of them together and ice them for me. If you’d seen her cakes you’d understand just how excited I was about this plan. 

 

Then we couldn’t track the damned things down. It turns out that this weekend was the one that every curious Banter chose to try the cakes.

 

We drove from Kenilworth to Blue Route, to Canal Walk and back to no avail. Poor Graham played chauffeur fortified only with a meagre McDonald’s burger (because we may have both forgotten to eat – this is why we likely should never be parents). He was endlessly patient with my panic and despair… and went to check the healthy food market near his work during lunch break on Monday. There they were! Perhaps that should have been our Plan A to begin with. There’s a lesson here about over-complicating things that I probably also will never learn. 

 

Talking of learning things, I mentioned just now how it’s a big birthday. Well, it’s my 30th. When I think of turning 30, I think of Ally McBeal. There was a whole episode about her turning 30 (literally, it was called Turning Thirty

 

And then I get scared because I know the episode opened with her freaking out about turning “the big 3 – 0”, and that makes me think that I should be freaking out. And then I get even more scared because that episode aired in 2000 and that was seventeen years ago. What??

 

Okay, but in all honesty, I’m not that scared. I’ve never really been one for measuring myself against societal norms (probably because back when I did that I used to fall inexorably short, so I decided to rather become “interesting” and “eccentric” and the kind of person who uses “inexorably” in a sentence). I remember when I turned 16, I felt terribly unqualified to be that old. The same with being 18 – I’d never even had a boyfriend! When I turned 21 I was surrounded by other crazy 21-year-olds so I felt a bit better, and the feelings that weren’t better got drowned in alcohol. Now at 30, I feel like I overshot the mark and have fallen somewhere on the other side of 80. I have back problems, dietary issues and spend my evenings knitting or writing with my spectacles perched askew upon the tip of my nose (yea, I just got new glasses so I’m still working on focusing properly). 

 

But if I’m a 30-year-old 80-year-old, I’m a happy one. I have grandpa “get-off-my-lawn” Graham at my side, a large circle of supportive friends across the world, and a job I don’t hate. 

 

Which is I guess all that one can ask for at 30 if one still wishes to enjoy the odd avo toast

 

Despite this, I do get that unsettling sense of life slipping away which I guess is why I’ve decided to start blogging again. I hope to keep my rambles interesting, angst-free  (unlike my old livejournal) and semi-frequent. Other than that, if there’s something specific you want me to cover please leave a comment or hit me up on social media (I just used “hit me up”, see, I’m down with the kids!). 

 

These are some sections I’ll be introducing with the next update. Is there anything you think I should add? 

 

 

I’m writing:

 

In this section, I’ll be keeping track of my writing progress and posting extracts. 

 

I’m making art: 

 

In this section, I’ll be keeping track of my art progress and posting some pics.

 

I’m eating:

 

In this section, I’ll make note of any nice gluten-free food or recipes I find or other food anecdotes. Sometimes I’ll be linking to posts on Graham’s website, Next Window Plz

 

I’m listening to: 

 

In this section, I’ll give music recommendations. 

 

I’m reading: 

 

In this section, I’ll give book recommendations or, more likely, link to interesting articles.

 

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How I beat procrastination

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When I say “beat”, I mean “beat” in the present tense, of course. Because beating procrastination is an ongoing battle. For someone prone to procrastination, there’s no such thing as winning. You’re pretty much working against your own brain constantly in order to get important things done.

 

Alledria Hurt started a discussion in my writing group earlier about self-motivation. Some people are encouraged by positive rewards at the end of achieving their goal (get 1,000 words down, have a chocolate). Some people are encouraged by negative consequences (if I don’t get these words down, I can’t watch TV today).

For me, neither of these things seem to work. Negative consequences make me panic and procrastinate more. And positive consequences make me sad that I can’t have the positive things now and grumpy about doing the task at hand. Not ideal. 

Winning the Procrastination Battle for me is all about trying to outwit my brain, and these are some strategies that I’ve found do work.

 

Understanding the enemy

 
Everybody’s brain is different, so tricking yourself might be different from how I trick myself. As with any war, the first step is knowing the enemy. That means understanding exactly what thoughts lead to procrastination. For me it’s usually one of three things:

 

1. This is a large task

This is a big undertaking, I should probably get the little things done first so I can undertake it in one chunk and really focus.

If I start that task now, I won’t get a chance to do the other things I want to do today/tonight. I should probably do those first. 

If I start now, I’ll probably be interrupted by a meeting/visit/obligation. I should wait until that’s done before starting. 

I don’t know where to start.

This task probably isn’t for me. I’m going to mess it up because it’s too large and important. 

 

2. This is not the right time to do it

I’m not feeling very focused now. I’m too hungry/sad/tired. I should rather do something else now and tackle that task when I’m better equipped.

I’m not inspired now. If I wait a while, inspiration will hit. 

It’s too late at night/early in the morning/close to meal time. I’ll do it later. 

 

3. I’d rather do something fun

I have to do this task, so it’s automatically the devil and not fun. 

This fun thing will only take a moment and then I’ll feel better about life in general and do better work. 

 

The art of war

 
Once I catch myself having these thoughts, I know that I am faced with my enemy, Procrastination. This is the battle plan I use.

 

For “it’s too large” thoughts:

    • Strategy 1: It’s really not that big If you can, you need to convince yourself that the huge task that seems huge is not really that big. It helps to compare it to other tasks you’ve done that are similar and you’ve done successfully. For me this is my monthly reports for work. They seem HUGE but I have to remind myself, I somehow manage to do them every month. It will nearly always feel larger in your  mind than it really is.
    •  

    • Strategy 2: break it down into parts. It’s the old “eat an elephant” thing. If you can break it down into smaller, less-scary, tasks then it’s easier to tackle. I like to make a list of all of the parts/steps that need to happen. If you’re having a crisis of confidence in your ability to do the task, choose a single step that you feel comfortable with and start there.
    •  

    • Strategy 3: “just a tiny piece” If the list is still overwhelming, choose one of the easiest places to start and tell yourself you only have to do that little bit. This is a great strategy for novel writing, I find. Cat Hellisen does #Gimme100 on Twitter, which is a challenge to write only 100 words a day (and often turns into writing many more words). My version is “open the laptop”. The battle is practically already won if I can sit down and open up the doc with my novel in it and read a few lines. I tell myself “you don’t need to solve the problem with Chapter 20 today, you can just read the intro line and see if you have anything to add.” And usually, once I get stuck in, I’m hooked and end up solving the problem with Chapter 20 anyway.

     

 

For “this is not the right time” thoughts:

It is the right time. That’s the trick. It is always the right time. Inspiration doesn’t matter (you had it with you all along, like Dorothy’s ability to click her heals and return home). If you’re avoiding doing a task, you’ll never be in the perfect mood for it.

Also, it helps to accept that interruptions don’t matter that much either. In fact it can be good to take a break, even in the middle of something big that needs a lot of focus.

Trying to find a large chunk of time when you feel inspired and in a good mood is like trying to find the holy grail: a terribly costly endeavor that is likely to be fruitless. Start now, because there’s probably not going to be a better time.

 

For “I’d rather do something fun” thoughts”

You have to give it to these guys for at least being honest. Most of the time your brain will use excuses like “it’s too big” or “now’s not the right time” when it really means that it wants to do something more enjoyable.

The secret to this one is that you need to drill down into exactly why you think this thing you need to do is not enjoyable. Sometimes my own tricksy brain tries to tell me I don’t enjoy writing. Like what? Seriously?

Writing is my dream. I love it more than anything.

But once it’s something you have to do, it feels like work. It feels like it’s much easier to just pick up a videogame and space out. But, you know, if you set a deadline on playing that video game you’ll procrastinate about doing that too. I know all about that, I’m marrying a game reviewer.

No matter how much you love something, if you make it something you have to do, you’re going to resent having to do it. That’s just how we are.

So how do you get around that? Well, this is where some people find bribery works. You lead your brain into the task with the promise of something fun later and then, when you end up actually enjoying the task, it’s a wonderful surprise. But for me, that just makes me more resentful about not being able to do the fun thing. I need to find the fun thing in the task itself.

With writing it comes down to remembering the good parts of the story, the reason why I decided to write it. I read through my favourite scenes (or go through them in my head if not yet written) to “find my passion” for the story and convince me that I really want to write it after all.

With other aspects of life I also try to drill down into the task to find a small fun aspect. Even if it’s only very very small. Colour-coding notes worked for me when I was studying, or illustrating them with funny pictures. When it comes to social media reports, I like finding out which posts do the best and trying to figure out why.

And if all else fails, and “finding the fun” is impossible, you need to look at the reason why doing the task is important. Zoom out and look at the bigger picture. This is slightly different from “fear of negative consequences” (I’ll get in trouble if I don’t do this report! I’ll punish myself if I don’t write!). It’s more about seeing how this thing you need to do will improve your overall wellbeing and happiness or even alter the world for the better.  (“If I pass my exam, I’ll have a qualification and be able to get a better job”, “If I discover which Facebook ads work best, I’ll be able to offer businesses advice that makes a real positive difference to their lives”, “If I finish this novel, other people will be able to enjoy the story I’ve been telling myself for years”).

 

One final trick

This is the one that I call “bait and switch”. If you’re very sneaky, you can get your brain to do something that it would rather avoid by making it think it’s avoiding something else.

So for example if I’m procrastinating about writing, I give my brain a choice: do writing or clean the house.

Which do you think it’s more likely to choose?

The house, of course. But there are worse things than having a clean house.

^_^
 

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The incy wincy spider

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I actually quite like spiders. I mean I wouldn’t keep one as a pet, but I acknowledge their assistance in keeping away the mozzies and ants. I share a truce with some Daddy Longlegs that live up in the corner of my lounge. I don’t suck them up with the vacuum cleaner, they eat the pests.

I actually quite like spiders, I had explained to many a house guest. Including one that almost jumped across the front lawn last weekend when a spider appeared on the car door he was about to open.

“Don’t worry, go inside and I’ll get the stuff out the boot,” and I did and it was fine.

I actually quite like spiders, I said.

Until last night.

After a long day at work, I came home to a dark house. I flicked on the light-switch in my bedroom and there, just below the switch, was a huuuge rain spider.

I didn’t scream.

I actually quite like spiders, I repeated to myself. It’s more afraid of me than I am of it. Just keep calm. No, stop shaking. Just get a Tupperware, capture it and let it out in the garden.

I sat back on the bed and stared at it. It stared at me. We stared at each other.

“I actually quite like spiders,” I said to it. “I don’t want to kill you, but I’m afraid I can’t seem to get close enough to you to take you outside. So how about you just leave and we forget this ever happened?”

It continued to stare at me.

I think that’s when I bolted.

I totally did not freak out on Twitter. I might have posted in allcaps. But only once. Okay maybe twice.
Eventually I got myself together, emptied a small bin, put on rubber gloves (just in case) and gingerly approached the bedroom again.

IT WAS GONE.

THE THING WAS GONE.

THE HUGE, GIGANTIC THING THE SIZE OF MY HAND WAS HIDING SOMEWHERE IN MY ROOM OMG.

Ahem.

By this I mean that it probably did as I asked and attempted to leave.

I flung the window open wide, switched off the light and retreated back to the lounge.
Maybe it would see the invitation and flee under the cover of darkness?

I tried very hard to relax but let’s be realistic here, who could possibly relax knowing that that thing was in there and could come in here and crawl all over you while you were watching videos on YouTube? Who?!

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I gave myself a pep talk. No, I would not burn the house down and flee, as tempting as this option was (and at least four people on Twitter suggested it). Nor would I hide in the car. Hiding in and later sleeping in the car may have been more tempting had my car not been what my dad calls a “go-cart with a roof” (she’s petite okay!).

I went into the room and began looking for the spider.

In the en suite bathroom there was a leaf on the floor near the window that looked like it might be a spider and I was running for the exit before I even realised that it was foliage. This was not promising.

Deep breaths. I actually quite like spiders. Good guy spider. Just wants to help out with the ants. (Ants are always a problem just before the first rains of the season in Johannesburg). Good guy spider would not hurt me. Good guy spider just wanted to survive this. Much like me. We could sign a peace treaty involving the window.

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I slowly began sorting through the everything near the wall where I’d last seen it.

Okay who am I kidding? I made very loud noises and threw stuff across the room in utter panic. I knocked over the lamp. I kicked the bedside table over. This was not my proudest moment.

Then there, behind my framed graduation photo, was a hairy leg. And it moved.

I was out of the room again.

Poor spider, it was just hiding from me and my noise like any decent creature would. I went back in. The hairy leg was still there. I judged the distance from the window to the picture. I could pick up the picture and hold it calmly by the window until the spider crawled off. That wouldn’t be so hard.

“I am strong, I am independent,” (went my inner dialogue). I can do this. It’s not so hard. Pick up the picture.

“But the hairy legs! So many of them!”

“Pick up the picture!”

“It might panic and crawl all over me!”

“Pick. Up. The. Picture.”

“What if it bites me! Female rain spiders can be aggressive, Wikipedia said.”

“Do it now!”

I moved a hand towards it, “I’m doing it! No… no I’m not.”

“For goodness sakes. It’s a spider! Yes it’s actually too big to fit in a Tupperware but it’s still much smaller than you. Stop being a baby. Just do it.”

Setting fire to the house and living in the car was starting to sound like a viable option again.
I paused with my hand stretched towards the picture. I had options. I could… poison the thing. Make it run to god knows where and curl up in pain and die. I could do that. It was an option. I could… light lavender oil and perform a chant. Wasn’t lavender good for these things? I could… I could go to the main house and get the burly ex-farmer landlord to come sort it out for me… in the middle of his dinner time. I could hit it with a shoe.
I could also just bloody well grab the picture and put it next to the window.

So I finally did. I would not be defeated!

Of course one thing I didn’t take into account was my reaction when the startled spider moved.

I dropped the picture. The picture went one way, the spider went the other. The picture went outside the window. The spider dropped onto the sill. It ran for its life. Across the sill and no, not out the window, up the wall again. I knew this was my chance. If I let it get away again fire would be the only option. So I grabbed the bin and chased it, across the wall and up above the bed. Standing on tippy toes I slammed the bin down over it. And then I stood, panting.

Now what?

I didn’t have one of the essential ingredients for spider capture: a piece of paper. All I had was me, a bin and a wall.

The window was on the wall.

I began sliding the bin down and across towards the window avoiding the telephone line and going around the curtain rail. Slowly. At one stage I moved too fast and hit a bump and the little furry leg stuck out again. I didn’t scream. I didn’t drop the bin. I just increased my concentration.

The problem with the window was that it was built into the wall. There was no way for me to guide the spider out without actually letting it go.

I did it on a count of ten. I let the spider go near the open window and then I nudged its huge furry behind with the corner of the bin, all the while telling it (begging it?) that there was no need to hurt me. We could be friends. I actually quite like spiders.

It seemed to consider coming back inside. That corner it had found above the bed was the perfect place to set up a new home. I banged the bin against the wall behind it. No, not that kind of friend.

It scuttled out the window. I sprang to action, slamming the window shut and running into the bathroom to do the same.

Then I realised the picture was outside. My only copy of my graduation photograph.

I swallowed and, still high on adrenaline, headed outside with a torch. There, outside my bedroom window, was the spider. It was leering at me. LEERING.

Well fuck this shit. Some things are just not worth it. Memories are over-rated anyway.

In the safety of my house, having a calming cup of tea, I realised that I was feeling pretty accomplished. I had fought a great battle that night and both parties had come out okay in the end. Fears are illogical and yet they have such amazing power over us. But it is possible to fight them and to overcome them for the greater good.

I also realised that I do actually quite like spiders. As long as they’re nowhere near me.

spider

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You are what you love

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I was about fourteen when it happened. It came at me completely without warning. At the time I was pretty sure there was something wrong with me.

It had started so randomly. I’d been eating dinner one night and Star Trek Voyager had come on. Most of it had been strange technobabble – I’d had no interest in science fiction before this so words like “shields”, “beam”, and “borg” meant nothing. For some reason I kept watching.  It may have been the strong human element that hooked me (Janeway was injured, Chakotay betrayed her trust), or it could have been that I just wanted to avoid doing my homework.

At any rate, a few days later I was at the library.  I’d just finished Lord of the Rings and the second book had been taken out.  I idly perused the other books in the section and, lo and behold, came across a cover with the characters from that TV show that had been on the other night. I decided to take it out, not really expecting much

The book in question
The book in question

I read the first story – the one featuring B’Elanna– and I loved it so much that I read it again straight away. Imagine my surprise when that Friday night the episode – the exact TV version of the story I’d just read – played while I was eating my supper.

By the time it finished there was no hope left for me. I was a Trekkie.

I didn’t know that’s what I was at the time. I couldn’t. I didn’t have access to a vast community that shared my passion. I couldn’t even watch the episodes of the original series. But I read all the books the library had and made it my personal mission in life to buy all the second-hand Star Trek books I could get (I still have a bookshelf dedicated to them). I discovered that a boy in my class also liked the show and he gave me the most amazing treasure ever in a pre-home Internet time: the Official Star Trek Encyclopedia CD ROM. I became familiar with every custom, series, character, episode. I knew what Vulcans like to eat (Plomeek soup, obvs), how to insult a Klingon (question their honour, but be prepared to die if you do so), the general principles behind the technology (holodecks use a combination of forcefields and replicators to create matter that one can touch and feel). I became an expert. I became… a Fan.

Fourteen-year-old Tallulah was the epitome of the obsessive Fan. I had a file of Voyager quotes. I found some fanfic that placed all the characters in fairy tales and I rewrote the stories. By hand. I had my own concept spin off book series idea. It was called Starfleet Civilian and it featured stories about normal people living in the Star Trek universe (no, they weren’t all Mary Sues! They had run-ins with the Orion Syndicate and Space Pirates and had to do jobs that weren’t military-related or glamorous and ended up in the firing line regardless and some of them were spies… and maybe a part of me still kind of wants to write this… *ahem*).

Anyway, I had it bad. It took up every second of my day that I wasn’t at school and my entire nights during weekends and over holidays. Fandom completely stole my life.

But here’s what I gained in return:

  • I taught myself HTML so I could create a fan site.
  • I joined play-by-email role-playing games where I met a bunch of awesome people.
  • The PBEM games made me practice my writing every day for years. NanoWrimo has nothing on the USS Liberty in terms of writing volume, I can assure you.
  • The RPGs also assisted with my learning touch-typing. First time I ever typed while not looking at the keyboard was during a particularly harrowing ordeal for my character, Sarah Crighton.
  • I took science and maths in highschool. I was inspired by Janeway to learn about physics. Ok, I sucked at it and eventually quit but I still got a year more of science education than I would have otherwise.
  • Star Trek gave me role models. Women who were in the thick of the action, who brandished their brains as weapons (in the figurative sense!) and were not afraid of anything. Who would die for what they believed in. And what they believed in was always, in the end, human (or alien) rights.
  • Star Trek completely shifted my paradigm with regards to technology. It moved it away from the realms of streams of confusing, meaningless, code and into a critical part of what it means to be human in the current era.
  • I learned about working in a hierarchy and negotiating. I learned diplomacy.
  • I learned the meaning of words like diplomacy. And hundreds of others. My vocabulary expanded immensely.
  • It gave me a creative outlet – I learned a bunch about sewing, drawing, writing (as already mentioned), website design and, most importantly of all, taught myself Corel PhotoPaint and Adobe Photoshop, which I use almost daily now.
  • It opened my eyes to geekdom in general, enabling me to find my niche in the world.

 

I think it’s safe to say that if I hadn’t happened to be so intrigued by Voyager that one night back in 2000, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. My fandom played a huge part in shaping who I am and getting me to where I am now. The career I’m in now, the company that I’m working for and the people who I choose to surround myself with are all an indirect result of a teenage obsession.

Recently I’ve gone back to Star Trek. I’ve re-watched the old episodes and I’ve laughed at how utterly terrible some of them are (anyone remember the Voyager episode with the Macro Virus? Lol). Distance (and age) brings perspective. I can see the flaws. But distance (and perhaps age) also makes the heart grow fonder. Now I realise how lucky I was that I happened to be exposed to this particular universe and these particular ideas, at the precise age when one is crafting one’s identity.

The Star Trek universe reached out to me at the very moment when I was mentally stitching together the tapestry of who Tallulah was. A part of that tapestry was formed by Jean Luc Picard, who’d put everything on the line to save a single person if he could. About human rights, he’d say: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.”

A part of that tapestry was formed by Kathryn Janeway, who’d handle the tensest situation with grace and who would strand herself on the other side of the galaxy rather than risk innocents being harmed. “Fear exists for one purpose: to be conquered,” she’d say, alongside statements like, “A stranger is a friend you just haven’t met yet.”

B’Elanna and Worf, the two Klingons, taught me about accepting who you are – the good alongside the bad. Through Seven of Nine, Data and Spock’s explorations of what it meant to be human, I came to appreciate my own humanity. The emphasis on intelligence and “being the best and the brightest” reinforced the goals I’d already inherited from Hermione. I stopped assuming there were limits to what I could be.

Finally, there’s the life philosophy that Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway, distills in this great quote (from Dragon Con 2011):

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I meet people all the time who scoff at fandom and laugh at the idea of fanfic. I remember reading an academic article by one of the many academics called Thompson a few years ago. He spoke of fandom as a one-sided love affair. That’s not a terrible way to describe it.

But it is inaccurate.

When one is so deeply embroiled in a fandom the way I was, it is in no way one-sided. You get back so much more than you put in.

A year or so after my initial panicked scrawlings I added another note in my diary, answering past me (I’m an only child, I talk to myself a lot):

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