A Letter to Myself on the Occasion of My 47th Birthday

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Dear Self,

47, huh? That’s one of those totally irrelevant birthdays that you pretty much just ignore. No milestone, no novelty balloons, probably not even a cake, just you and maybe a loved one out for a nice dinner and home and in bed at a reasonable hour. You could just be easing up to the halfway mark of your life (hey, Grandma has made it to 90!), but more likely than not, you’re sort of thinking about how life is slowing down, and how you need to adjust pretty much everything in preparation for the years ahead.

This past year has not been your best. Memorable for prolonged illnesses and a traumatic event that tipped you onto a path of anxiety, 46 was mostly a year to recover from and hopefully forget, not one to note in any way.

But let’s face it, Self, even at your most depressed and anxious, you still have a fiery spark of optimism. You’re hanging in there because you live life by the motto “that which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”. You like being angry because you see it as an impetus for change.

Well change is ahead, my friend. It’s happening whether you like it or not, so you might as well get on board and make the most of it.

Here are the rules for year 48…

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Skydiving in Literary Form

So, as you probably know, I wrote a book, and I’m in the process of setting up a publishing imprint to self-publish it, and eventually, other books, maybe even by other people. When I tell people this, they often react with a note of awe in their voices. “Wow! That’s amazing, I could never do that.” I find myself confused by this, to be honest. Because writing the book, particularly this book, wasn’t really very hard. About half of the content is new, stories that I intentionally sat down to write for this publication, but about half of it is stuff that I’ve written over the past ten years. Compared to running TasteTO and writing 2 or 3 pieces a day at 500 – 1000 words each, writing a book of essays about my life and food was, well, easy and fun.

Writing a novel, which I did in 2005 (it’s sitting in a drawer, waiting to be published); that was a lot harder. But still not as hard as running a daily-updated website.

What is hard, and scary, and intimidating, is the actual work involved in publishing a book.

Normally, writers who deal with established publishers don’t ever have to deal with the technical aspects of putting together a book. They submit a manuscript, get galleys in return to do edits, and while they may have some say in the cover, or paper quality or overall design, they don’t literally have to set up templates or calculate signatures (those little bundles of sheets of paper that make up the pages of a book) to determine spine width.

I don’t think I have uttered the phrase “This scares the crap out of me!” so many times in my life as I have in the past few weeks.

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Communication and the Small Business Owner

Yesterday morning, a part of the hose on our washing machine broke and we were faced with the task of replacing it. A simple part, it is available at most hardware stores with a decent plumbing section, yet we had the worst time trying to track it down. Why? Because most of the small local hardware stores in our part of town seem to be trapped in the 1970s.

There is a Home Hardware store a few blocks away from us. Traditionally, they are closed on Sundays, except in the summer. From Victoria Day to Labour Day, they open on Sundays from noon to 5pm. (I’ll ignore the Sunday closing thing because that’s not what this rant is about but I can’t help but point out that in this modern era, not all of us are Christian and need the day off to be with Jesus.) As this store would be our first choice, we check the Home Hardware website, only to discover that the hours listed indicate the store is closed on Sundays. Since we’re sure they’re probably open, because they have been open on summer Sundays for the almost 20 years we’ve lived in the neighbourhood, Greg calls the store. Not only is there no answer, there’s no voice mail. What to do?

Now I don’t expect a store to have a voice mail where you can leave a message, but sweet sassy molassy, don’t you think it would be a wise business move to have a message on there listing the store hours? I mean seriously, I pick up the phone and call a store for one of two reasons – to see if they have a specific item in stock, or to find out their hours – if their hours are not listed online.

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Loose Ends

I seem to be starting my new year at somewhat loose ends. While 2011 was a very good and productive year in terms of work, and certainly beat 2010 in terms of emotional issues (yay for nobody close to us dying), I was left feeling that I didn’t accomplish very much.

This whole food writing thing, you see, well it was/is somewhat of a diversion. My original goal in “becoming a writer” was to write novels, or lovely descriptive essays. Since 2005 I’ve had a 90,000 word novel sitting in a drawer, waiting for me to get up the nerve to send it off to an agent or publisher. I also have about half a book’s worth of food-related memoirs and essays and a list of other pieces to write…

The food writing thing happened a bit by accident. A friend who had once worked as Margaret Atwood’s assistant told me that to help get publishers interested in my fiction, it would help to have “a name”. A series of events led to job offers at a couple of publications and then Greg and I started TasteTO, and suddenly I had “a name”. (At least it seems so, based on the number of people who Google my name and hit this website.)

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Homework

Organizational experts advise clients who have trouble getting things done to always tackle the biggest, most important things first. This is logical for a variety of reasons, one of which is that it’s theoretically easier to deal with the little stuff once the stress of the big project is done.

The problem with this theory, though, is that people with poor organizational skills often have trouble estimating the amount of time a given project should take. So they might get through the big project, but not have the time available to complete the smaller, less important stuff.

Like just about every person in the modern world, I have a list of big “little things” that I never seem to get to. Things that it would be nice to have off my to-do list, but that are not imperative. After I get my daily (work) writing deadlines met, I should move on to these little, less important tasks, but if I leave them to the end of the day, that never seems to happen.

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Bixby Says Reeeelaxx!!

I am not good at doing nothing. I can sit still – to watch a TV show or a movie, or read a book. I can enjoy a day at the beach, or a walk in the woods. But I’m really not good at doing “nothing”.

I am supposed to be “on hiatus”. This was supposed to be a break from a pretty constant 3 years of running TasteTO without a real break. Because even when we took breaks – over the Christmas holidays when site traffic is slow, for instance – we were still fiddling around with stuff; cleaning up the back end of the site, planning for new stories, columns, etc.

The plan was to take at least a week and do “nothing”. That would probably include lots of reading. Maybe some shopping, or lunch with friends. But not work. There was work to do, and the plan was to start mid-month. Instead I started this week. My days of doing nothing consisted of 2 days of being sick with a cold and sleeping. Then it was back to work, because I can’t seem to not turn this damned computer on.

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Down and Dirty versus Clean and Serene

For Christmas, my brother sent me a book called Dirt: The Quirks, Habits and Passions of Keeping House. It has been on my wish list for some time now and I was delighted to receive this book of essays about people’s relationships with the spaces they inhabit. I was disappointed once I started reading it though, since most of the essays appeared to be from people attempting to justify their own sloth. Sure, there were a few where the writers dealt with the dirt of others – having to clean the house of a deceased relative who had been a hoarder, for example. There’s also a section of essays written by people who have worked as maids or housekeepers. And even a couple where the essayists wrote about a specific chore; Laura Shain Cunningham loves to wax her floor, Juliet Eastland is obsessed with sheets.

But most of the essays were from people who hated to clean, about why they hated to clean.

Which is where I begin to feel like a freak, because I like to clean. A lot.

There are things I dislike, and downright hate – hate cleaning the shower for instance, and the shower is the only place in the house where mainstream cleaners make an appearance. I live with wall to wall carpeting and would prefer hardwood floors but it’s a rental and the choice is not mine. So I vacuum and steam clean carpets a lot more than I would like, because with two dogs, you can’t NOT keep the rugs clean or else the places gets too doggy smelling. But I don’t think I actually hate the task itself – just the time it takes up.

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Miss Shirley’s Urban Wisdom – Riding the Elevator

In wide use since the mid-1800s, elevators enable people to gain access to areas of multi-floor buildings without having to use the stairs. This device is incredibly useful for anyone moving large or bulky items such as boxes, baby strollers, shopping buggies, beer kegs, large dogs or refrigerators.

Although the western world has lived with the elevator for over 150 years, it appears that some basic rules and etiquette continue to be neglected. Miss Shirley will enlighten you.

First, when you approach the elevator and press the button to call the car to your floor, step back once you have done so. While it seems like the most basic of common sense, if you stand directly in front of the doors, the people already on the elevator will not be able to disembark. Which means you won’t be able to get on, you stupid nimrod!

Second, once you have entered the elevator, select the floor you want and move as far into the car as possible so that others getting on behind you have room. Do not, Miss Shirley will repeat this, do NOT block the goddamn doorway. If you desire to remain close to the door, either because you are phobic, someone else on the elevator smells bad, or because you are getting off before everyone else, wait and let the other people on first. Miss Shirley, who lives on the 2nd floor of her building and who is usually accompanied on her elevator trips by two large dogs, often lets others onto the car first so that she does not have to push past them 30 seconds later to disembark. Also, elevators are not like airplanes – if for some reason the door closes before you can get on, the elevator will be back in a couple of minutes.

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