Getting better

Sometime round about the beginning of Autumn 2010, I started feeling not quite right. It was hard to put my finger on what it was though – I had hypertension, an upset stomach, overall unhealthy, quick to anger, forgetful and generally emotionally unwell. The problems nearly always surfaced around the office, and a colleague was the one who finally diagnosed it as stress. Stephane had commented that I was quick to over-react to simple questions, and complaining a lot more about work than was really reasonable. As someone who was unfortunately familiar with stress, I think he was more able to pick it out.

It was a surprise to me. I’m a very chill person by nature, and had never really felt stress before, and it had been at least a decade since I had been introduced to a new emotion. Stress, as it turns out, is the kind of thing that builds up slowly, and can take you by surprise. It also is the sort of thing that you can’t just shed. Like Christmas kilos before beach season; what snuck into your life takes a long time to shoo out, even if you’re trying.

I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and chalked it up to work. I’d been working on a project that was going gangbusters in terms of users and reach, but was bleeding resources like a stuck pig. As much as I was happy to be in demand, I couldn’t meet it if I was the only person left working on the project. I tried taking vacation, working with management to change things, investing time in hobbies, home life, church life, whatever, and the stress-o-meter continued to rise. Slower than before, but it was still going up. I hadn’t reached burn-out yet, but I was very close.

So, I quit. I decided that if work was having such a negative impact the best thing I could do was cut it out completely. I signed up for a 1 year sabbatical, with the intention to resume my old position after 12 months, and moved to the other side of the world. I didn’t stop working entirely, but I did make a dramatic change in my work environment, and responsibility levels. I also did everything in my power to not talk about the previous 6 years or so of my work life, hoping that shutting it out and starting over would make me better faster.

And 12 months later… I wasn’t better. This was my second big surprise.

A year felt like a long time. And as far as years go, it had been a great one. I spent all of my free energy on making Xavier’s life awesome, and by consequence had spent 12 months having an absolute blast myself. We soaked up a ton of vitamin D, met a lot of happy people, completely reversed our financial situation (from debt to solid savings) and ‘discovered’ a lot of wine and friends along the way.

But, the stress wasn’t gone. I know this because around the end of January 2013, I spent an afternoon going through the motions of planning a move back to my old job like I’d originally planned, and I had a remarkably violent reaction. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as vomitus of the psyche, but this is what happened, and it took several weeks to wash it all off again.

So I did a bunch of other things. Some of the things that I probably should have done in France. Things that really weren’t that important in the grand scheme of it all. But things that got me moving again. And, as of this past Thursday, I can say that I am fixed. This time for real.

I know this because on Thursday someone sat me in a room and started talking about the hideous, boring, terrible things that I spent three years in France talking about. And I didn’t die inside. I got excited. I literally jumped from my chair to help them explain their ideas, to draw pictures for them, to refine things, and to cheerlead where I could. I knew this stuff, and wanted to share my experience with them.

And at the end of all that, I felt good. Not because I’d helped someone, or because the result of their project was anything super interesting. I felt good, because I didn’t feel bad anymore.

That was really nice.

It took about two years of active recovery, and I still have to actively manage my stress levels, but I think I’m finally getting better.

Where to next?

We regularly banter back and forth about where our journey will take us next. We very rarely decide on much (decisions are hard!) but we sort of narrow things down in a way to help us aim at a few good options. It’s become a bit of a stickier issue since having X; we’d really like to be closer to family (and I’m sure family would like to be closer to us) but the people I’m related to don’t live anywhere near people who will pay me to work, leaving us with this nasty geographic triangle to contend with:

If you're wondering where the intersection is, you may have missed the point.
If you’re wondering where the intersection is, you may have missed the point.

Thing is, there is no perfect place for us, so we’ve been trying to settle on a near-good-enough place that will still make it easy enough to find work, to see family, and to settle down (for a bit anyhow).

We sat down the other day and brainstormed all of the places where we might want to live, if there weren’t really any restrictions, and quickly came up with a list of 14 cities across 7 countries and 4 continents. That got shortlisted quickly, but only down to nine, four and three. Getting beneath that took a lot of chatting, research, and coin flipping.

The biggest decision points ended up being:

  • follow the best work opportunities.
  • stay put; or move within 3 hours of both folks (by plane).
  • a complete lack of interest in learning the nuances of a fourth country.

After restricting things quite a bit the list shrunk to a measly four places. Three of the top four cities were located in western North America, and all three are much more “where the work is” than “where the folks are” but none are anywhere near as far as Paris or Sydney. The surprise fourth option was: “Stay where we are for a bit longer.”

So, now that we have some idea of where to go, I think the ball is back in my court to see what can be done about the work side of things. I think the decision point will be sometime by my birthday, and July or January look like the best time to move for tax reasons. We’ll see what happens.

Q&A with Brandon Sanderson

This week I was able to attend a Q&A with writer Brandon Sanderson, notable in his own right as an author, but especially interesting to fantasy fans as the man chosen to finish the Wheel of Time series (tl;dr) following Robert Jordan’s passing.

Over the hour, he answered a lot of interesting questions, but the two most compelling topics centered around his writing process when taking over from Robert Jordan, and his feelings regarding publishers and electronic publishing. I’m summarizing a lot here, but I thought the points were worth sharing.

On the topic of how to finish someone else’s work.

This was the big set of questions, and it was definitely cool to hear how someone goes through the process of writing the final portion of a very long, and very loved, fiction series.

He said a bunch of things, most of them intertwined, but I’ll try to separate out some of the key points. He started by noting that he had a very different writing method, style, and life experience from Robert Jordan, and therefore opted very early on that he would complete the story, but would not attempt to make it seamless with the previous books. Things like matching Jordan’s wording choices (eg. cobblestone vs paving stone) he threw right out the window, considering that it would be more effort to align than it was worth. He also specifically called out the differences in the battle scenes, pointing out that Jordan’s experience as a veteran gave him a very different perspective on the writing that Brandon didn’t share.

On the issue of methodology, he described himself as an ‘outline’ writer. Someone who creates an outline, then starts at the beginning and works his way through to the end. Whereas Robert Jordan was more of a ‘gardener’, or someone who gets and idea and then nurtures it through to completion. This meant that when he got the source material from Jordan’s widow (~200 pages all told), there were whole plot threads that had been completely written already, while other perspectives only had some rough notes sketched out. Fortunately, this played well into their mutual styles. Brandon took the notes and fit them into his outline model, marking the ‘Jordan’ chapters as essentially done (at first draft quality) and then started going through the process of filling in the blanks.

From his perspective, the story was well planned when he got it, but there was a lot of writing left to do. The actual writing part took him twice the effort of a normal book, because he had to do so much additional research, by way of going back through past work, to fact check and such. But, it sounded like the the general process wasn’t terribly different from normal writing once he’d got the outline done and finished fitting in Robert’s notes with his own.

On the topic of publishing, electronic and otherwise.

Brandon had earlier made a comment that he really enjoys eBooks. When asked what he would add to the world of eBooks to improve the industry / technology, his first answer was ‘nothing.’ He felt that a lot of the biggest problems had already been solved, and the most active topics weren’t that interesting to him. The ‘solved problems’ that he noted were:

  • The feeling of reading a book. People have had access to electronic content for a long time, but reading electronic content didn’t really take off until eInk solutions became widely available.
  • The size of a body of work. With print publishing, there’s a minimum, and a maximum page count that authors have to consider. Electronic publishing gets rid of both.
  • Distribution. Here, he touched on how it’s nice to have wide distribution channels, how it’s nice to be able to easily sell volumes of work (instead of individual titles) and how its cool to be able to support serialized work.

Whereas the problems that people were working on involved adding more interactive or multimedia components to books. Something he felt didn’t make sense in the context of written fiction. I think I agree – it reminds me a bit of the old encarta encyclopedias that included all kinds of cool movies and stuff. While that was fun, ultimately we went back to mostly written text and images.

After some further prompting, he did come up with something that he’d like to see: a good system for supporting third party annotations of written content, similar to directory commentary content on DVDs. This would be really cool for a lot of fiction nerds for sure.

On the topics of Publishing, self-publishing, and other financial issues.

The final things he spoke about were more monetary, and not linked to the technology so much. Like most people, he feels eBook costs should come down, and royalties to authors should come up. This was really interesting fodder for a lot of people, who started wondering ‘why not self publish?’ Brandon spent some time talking about the work that his publisher does (it was a lot), and how he’s very happy to outsource that labour to someone else. However, he did figure that the costs of outsourcing were perhaps a little off. I followed up with him afterwards and he gave an example that a large publishing house might offer 25% of net sales back to the author, where a small business would offer 50%. He figured that neither value was perfect, and would like to see it somewhere in between. I won’t put his suggested value here, but it really was a marginal increase over the lower of the two values.

I’ve had a lot of discussions around royalties and self-publishing with friends, but most of them aren’t making their livelihood from these activities. It was nice to hear some of these numbers from a someone who is, especially considering that it wasn’t just ‘I want more money!’  Even at his higher percent of net, if you also considered that he’d like to see the net cost fall by 10 or 20%, you could see that he wasn’t just asking for change for the sake of personal gain, but because he genuinely felt there were some financial imbalances given the nature of the industry today vs a few years ago.

Mistaken Identity

Tonight whilst browsing the internet, I clicked on the NY Times front page to see what was up with the world.

Dave looked up and said “Who’s that a picture of? It looks like Slater!”

I replied, “It’s a picture of a child. Dying of malaria. In Cambodia.”

In other news, we have great optical coverage here in France.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Will Smith

Yesterday we left the house to go buy some groceries and heard some very loud music playing from around the corner. We followed our ears to the premiere of Sept Vies, the new Will Smith movie that was opening at the Gaumont (the theatre down the street).

After a few moments of craning our necks over the crowd we saw what the commotion was about; Will Smith and Rosario Dawson were actually there! It was definitely cool to watch the stars come into the theatre.

For a celebrity he had a surprisingly familiar face. I think it’s because we spent so much time listening to the story, all about how, his life got flipped – turned upside down. Rosario was less familiar; she definitely stood out as a celebrity of some kind, but we weren’t really able to place her until a few minutes later.

After we got home, I took the camera from the bookshelf and put it back into my coat.

Why I don’t have TV

TiVo released the results from a survey they conducted to determine the Top 10 most memorable moments in TV for 2006. Looking at what the top 10 most memorable moments actually were, I feel renewed in my decision to not have a TV for 2007.

Top TV Moments of 2006 Survey Results
1 Katie Couric’s last day on “Today”
2 Mel Gibson’s interview with Diane Sawyer after his DWI arrest
3 Oprah tells author James Frey he betrayed readers
4 Sara and Grissom get together on “CSI”
5 Faith Hill’s reaction to Carrie Underwood’s win at “CMA Awards”
6 Kirstie Alley’s bikini reveal on “Oprah”
7 “Will & Grace” series finale in which their kids start dating
8 Kate and Sawyer get together on “Lost”
9 Rosie O’Donnell’s debut on “The View”
10 Connie Chung attempting a sultry serenade of Maury Povich

Full details can be found here:

It’s my first day!

Yesterday, I went out for lunch with a couple of folks from work. The waitress at our restaurant was very nice, but it was her first day.
I know this because she told me.
She told me “Hi, My name is Donna. Please excuse me if I make any mistakes, it’s my first day.”
She told me this as she poured me a glass of water to start my meal.
Except she didn’t pour me a glass of water. She held the glass in her left hand. She poured the water with her right. The glass in her left hand stayed empty as she poured 300 mLs of water onto my foot. Then she put the empty glass back on the table, smiled, and left.

“Thanks Donna.” I said. Yes. Thank you for the shoe full of water and an empty glass.

But no matter — you’re excused. It was your first day.

Is your dog on pot?

OK. So I walked past the Newspaper stands today and I saw a picture of a dog with the words “Is your dog on Pot?”

At first I thought ‘graffiti’. Those crazy graffitti-ists. 10 ft later I scolded myself; it’s actually called ‘art’ not ‘graffiti’. OK. So Art. By those crazy Art-ists. Does it make sense, not really. Perhaps I just read it wrong. More than perhaps, I must have read it wrong. It doesn’t make nearly enough sense to have actually been on the cover of the paper.

8 more ft.
But it could be art. Those art people sometimes do weird things. Art doesn’t have to make sense.

Never for a second did I think that it possibly could really have been the cover of the Province. For sure they are better than that (I know, they aren’t great, but I like to give them some credit).

It’s sad really.

Shamelessly stolen from