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Alone by Myself in Solitude: an introvert’s trials

So, in order to get time off for Stonecoast this July, I traded a whole bunch of shifts at work…which has resulted in me working eleven days straight. Right before that, I worked ten days straight—I had a day off in between the two stretches. Plus, I write at night.

I shouldn’t complain. I know people who work more hours, longer stretches, more stressful jobs.

But darn it, I really just want to sit alone by myself for a day. In the dark. And silence. Without people. Alone.

Huzzah for introversion!

As most people know, introversion isn’t about shyness or anti-sociability. It’s about energy production. Introverts generate energy within themselves, and lose it during social interaction. Important caveat: the energy loss varies from person to person. Chilling with friends takes energy, but significantly less than dealing with irate customers or dozens of strangers at a party. By contrast, extroverts generate energy through social interaction, and lose it when they have to be alone.

So ideally, for an introvert, life should look something like this:

IntrovertGraph

And for an extrovert:

ExtrovertGraph

Energy loss more-or-less equals energy generation. For introverts, that means that they get enough alone time to balance out the social interaction (which, while fun, is expensive, energy-wise). Extroverts get enough people time to compensate for the times that they’re alone. Everyone is happy.

It doesn’t always work this way.

Sometimes, like at cons, the creative environment and awesomeness of seeing everyone face-to-face masks the energy loss. That’s why so many introverts collapse after conventions; we’ve been steadily losing energy all weekend, we just haven’t really noticed. Adrenaline does the same thing. We had a fairly busy weekend in the brewery recently—and man, I was flying.

Sample! Growler! Growler sample growler! RETURN GROWLER SAMPLEGROWLERSAMPLESAMPLE!

And then I went home and promptly crashed.

Since Balticon, however, my own graph has looked more like this:

SadIntrovertGraph

It’s out of sync. My alone time isn’t enough to pay for the energy I’m spending on work, writing, and various other things. Think of a bank account. If my paycheque is suddenly slashed from $500 to $100/month (I’m using round numbers, bear with me), I’ll go into debt if I keep trying to pay my $200/month rent (again, I am pulling these numbers from the air).

Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, your energy source is just as important as food and water. Extroverts need people. Introverts need solitude. Force them to go too long without their generator of choice, and bad things happen.

All of which explains my own exhaustion and irritability. Yeah, I’ll own up to that—I’m trying very, very hard, and I feel terrible after snapping at people, but it happens.

Oh hai. I see you there. Trying to take my precious, precious energy.  (Wikimedia Commons)

Oh hai. I see you there.
(Wikimedia Commons)

But what can we do? After all, at some point, every one of us will go through stretches like this.

Setting boundaries and limits helps, I think. I am protecting my few off-days. Communication, as well: explaining to people that you love them, AND ALSO need to sit alone by yourself in such solitude that you cannot even sense the presence of another human being.

And of course, knowing yourself and maybe planning for those stretches. For me, some of these extra shifts were unexpected; I’m trying to roll with it, but having strategies in place—carving out time with/without people, allowing yourself breaks, getting enough sleep and such, which I admit I struggle with—might have made this easier.

Ah well. Only a few more days. And then—

This:

-KT

Cool Thing of the Week

Apparently, I’m getting a reputation as a lush! My ten-year-old self would be horrified. Two people sent me the same link to 18th century drink recipes—I raise my eyebrow at the ones with egg and cream, but some of them actually look quite good!

Of Dead Laptops and Back-ups

So, my laptop died.

It was never quite the same after I mailed it home from New Zealand. For a while, I had one consistently good USB port, one which was dodgy, and one dead. Then the other day, I noticed that my laptop wasn’t charging…even though it was plugged in.

Unplugging, re-plugging, and all sorts of fiddling did nothing. To make matters even more fun (whee!), I’m currently in Virginia on a three-week interning spin with my dear friends Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. So, a bit far from home.

Fortunately, Pip and Tee are wonderful people. They drove me to Best Buy and waited while the Geek Squad determined that they might be able to ship my laptop back to Canada, where Future Shop might be able to possibly replace the power port to maybe extend my laptop’s life another couple of weeks.

And then they patted my shoulder as I coughed up the money for a new laptop.

There is never a good time, but this could have been better (oh hai, MFA tuition). But the most striking part of this whole experience was transferring the files from the old machine to this new one. The issue wasn’t one of space (again, wonderful friends that Pip and Tee are, I had the use of all the external drives I could ask for).

No, the main issue was time. Once that battery goes, the old machine’s done.

(And yes, I know about pulling hard drives…but I’m in Virginia. I’m not sure how or if I can get the old laptop home.)

So it was like standing in a burning house, wondering, “What do I save? What do I grab first? What can I leave behind?” All the while knowing that every second of indecision brings you closer to that final shutdown.

It’s probably the historian in me, but I like having links to my own past. Detailed records, a personal archive that is there, even if I rarely dip into it. Maybe it’s a security thing, knowing that I can always reconstruct things if necessary.

Obviously, getting the writing to safety is always top priority when things get squirrelly, which is why I’m actually pretty good about backing things up.

Pictures and music vied for second place. A 2011 family trip to Costa Rica, the last we took before my dad died. My New Zealand photos. Even just images for Black Creek and this blog – more a matter of convenience and posterity, but still.

iTunes is fine, so I grabbed whatever extra stock music and sound effects I could. Luckily, I pulled the raw Hapax files ages ago (they were large and numerous), precisely because of this fear of, “What if I need to go back in one day?”

That’s a fear I face now, with the videos. I got the final cuts of all my Black Creek videos, but very little raw footage or sound files. I can’t see why I would ever need to rebuild those videos from scratch, but if ever someone asked, I probably couldn’t. That worries me, even though it’s completely irrational. Again, I blame my historian streak.

But at the end of the day, the important things are really the things that are me. The writing, the music, the photos. Most other things can be found again, edited again. Music is challenging to replace; writing and photos can be almost impossible.

Which is why I will give the customary “Back your stuff up” speech. When my laptop died, I already had the entirety of my fiction backed up elsewhere. I did go back for a few university essays, but the writing was safe.

Most of my photos are on Facebook (though there are always strays). I’ve used Google Drive more and more lately; it holds the music for the kids’ opera, the videos, and a few other random documents. I have my own intern Dropbox now.

It’s easier than ever to protect your data. Yes, emergencies happen. Yes, the unforeseen is…well, unforeseen. But if you can take any steps to mitigate potential disaster (knowing it’s not always possible)…then please, save yourself the heartache later.

Here are some photos that I would have been sad to lose.

KT

069

Dad tanned. I do not.

Arriving at the Dunedin flat. Too mundane for Facebook, but it brings me right back.

Arriving at the Dunedin flat. Too mundane for Facebook, but it brings me right back.

I like the perspectives no visitors see.

I like the perspectives no visitors see.

I do like the furballs...

And I do love the furballs…

Welcome 2014!

It’s strange, chatting to the people in various spheres of my life. The verdict on 2013 seemed mostly unanimous: it was a year that knocked a lot of people flat. Sure, there were good moments, but the consensus generally seems to be cautious optimism to embrace the New Year.

I don’t usually do resolutions…but there are a few things to which I’m looking forward, and which I’d like to accomplish this year.

The Book Formerly Known as Strix

This. Book. Oh my God. This book. My frustrations with Strix are infamous. For whatever reason, this book kept kicking my knees in all through 2013. Fortunately, Gabrielle is a wonderful, patient editor who helped me morph it into a new book (albeit one with the same premise).

So far as I’m concerned, Strix is dead. Not every book lives, which is a terrible, hard thing to learn. But! But but but! I’m incredibly excited by this new book. Since there is no longer a strix in it (the adage “murder your darlings” became my personal mantra, chanted as I huddled in the corner of my darkened room), I can’t call it that anymore.

When it comes out depends on how fast I write. Possibly spring 2014? Whether I podcast it depends on too many factors to guess right now.

Victorian Dark Fantasies

I had so much fun writing the VDF. I think it’s a solid book and this year, my goal is to shop it around. We’ll see what happens. And since I realized halfway through that it’s not necessarily a standalone novel, a sequel may be in the cards.

After all, I’d love to send my dynamic duo south. There are more politics and history to explore there, and for one character, that lovely northern accent may start becoming a slight problem….

Back to School

When I graduated last June, I declared that I was taking a break from academia.

Then Stonecoast emailed.

And so in ten short days, I’ll be boarding a plane to Portland, ME, for my first Stonecoast residency. Doing my MFA there definitely falls into the “If You Told Me This Two Years Ago, I Would Have Laughed At You” file. I’m astonished and nervous and ridiculously excited and slightly sick to my stomach all at once.

My goals: learn stuff, write better, keep on top of everything.

Podcasting

God, I miss podcasting. I’m making more time for it in 2014. Mostly, things are in the “Seekrit Projikt,” “vague planning and idea-bouncing” stage, but expect more Canadian accents in your headphones this year.

Friends and Family and Such

At the end of my last grief counselling session, the therapist said, “Well! It sounds like you have some really good people around you.”

“Yes,” I answered, without missing a beat. “I do.”

I do.

2013 found me leaning on my friends far more than I’d usually be comfortable with. But they were there. You know who are you are, and I thank you with all my heart.

But being a functional human being and paying some of that kindness back/forward is a major life goal for me this year. For the first time since my dad died, I feel on an even keel. I feel capable of being a good friend and actually contributing to my various relationships again.

Arohanui, guys.

And so….

My metaphor for 2013 is thus. Imagine coming home and seeing a wrecking ball and gaping muddy pit where your house used to be. You’re shocked and devastated, and can’t conceive how this could happen. As you sort through the ruins, you realize that some things are too broken to save. Others are way stronger than you ever imagined.

Um…you know I live here, right?

Eventually, you clear out most of the wreckage. Then you find someone strengthened your existing foundations and installed some new ones, too. While the loss is heartbreaking, you can build something entirely new and utterly wonderful on top of it.

May 2014 be a year of building. All of my best, to all of you.

KT

When The Book Doesn’t Work

It’s a sickening feeling when you realize your book doesn’t work.

Dread lodges in the pit of your stomach like a stone. You can try to deny it, you can try to push onwards, you can rationalize until you’ve nearly convinced yourself, but there’s no escaping the certainty:

The book doesn’t work.

I’ve started Strix for the third time. Third time through, third completely different story. Honestly, this is less rewriting, more throwing the book out and writing a brand-new one with the same premise. I’m finally liking it again, which is a HUGE deal for me. Rewriting was definitely the right choice.

But getting there – oh man, the most painful writing experience I’ve had yet. Though I’m still in the trenches, shell-shocked and clutching my rifle, I think I have a few battle scars. Possibly even a helpful word or two:

You are chained to nothing

Every draft of Strix, from the first half-hearted attempt I started before Hapax even sold, to the draft before this current one, started with the same sentence. Every. Single. Bloody. Time. I was chained to my protagonist, to the idea of what I wanted my protagonist to be, and when it became clear certain elements weren’t working, I shoehorned them in because I thought they “should” be there.

Don’t do this. The thing you most want to keep might be dooming your story over and over and over. “Murder your darlings,” be ruthless, and don’t be afraid to throw the kitchen sink out the window.

Maybe not your computer, though….

Why are you writing this?

That being said, you need to know why you are writing this story. What is the story’s heart, what is its essence that keeps you banging your head against it? That cannot get thrown out. Well, it can, but then you’re writing an entirely different book.

The premise of Strix is the same. The notion of a sweeping soteriological arc through my universe’s entire history is the same. That’s what drew me to it. I needed to keep that.

Nothing is wasted

I’ve lost count of my Strix drafts. I wrote 40,000 words of an early version before Hapax had even sold, then trunked it (even then, clearly, I knew something was wrong). Some elements from the official Strix 1.0 carried to Strix 2.0. Some elements from Strix 2.0 carry to Strix 3.0. Nothing from Strix 1.0 shows up in 3.0.

That’s ok. Because I couldn’t have written 2.0 without 1.0. They were practice drafts.

This is me writing Strix 1.0. This is me writing Strix 1.0 in Dunedin, New Zealand. This is me writing Strix 1.0 in Dunedin in…oh, MAY OF 2012. (Also, look how short my hair is! I may or may not need a haircut….)

Get backup

Think of the people you know. Friends, acquaintances, coworkers, neighbours, dog park pals, whatever. Is there someone who enjoys reading books like the books you write? Is it someone who is clever and insightful, who understands how stories work, who isn’t afraid to be honest, and whose opinion you value?

Approach them very nicely. Ask, very politely, if they will beta read for you.

And if they say yes—oh, it can be such a lovely relationship.

Beta readers catch things you won’t. They’ll read the story as readers, but informed and purposeful readers. I have several friends who are kind enough to read my early drafts and I’m incredibly grateful for them.

Of course, while you need people to ask the hard questions, you also need people who will hold your hand when it’s midnight and you’re sobbing at their kitchen table. Sometimes, if you’re very lucky (and I am), these people are one and the same.

Writing may look like a solitary occupation, but no one’s really alone in this.

Make yourself accountable

Which is what I’m doing right now. Here’s the deal: I leave for my very first Stonecoast residency on January 10th. I am not taking Strix with me. Not going to happen, I need it done before I leave.

Which means I need to reach the end of the story in a little under a month.

End of story.

By writing an average of 3000 words/day, I can make it. In the two nights I’ve been writing Strix 3.0, I’ve reached 6,600 words. So far, I’m on target!

But I am putting it here, on this blog, officially:

Done By Stonecoast

Hold me to this. And if you’ve got a project you need finished, January 10th is as good a deadline as any, right? Join the fun!

KT

Fighting Silence

I’ve been trying and failing to write a blog post for weeks. Not because I have nothing to say. I’ve tried to write posts about writing dialects, dipping into new genres, updates on the Victorian Dark Fantasy, the fact that I’m going to Stonecoast, collaboration with other writers, collaboration with other creative-types…

Inevitably, they end in despair and files deleted unsaved. I’ll get to about this point, actually, and then my fingers freeze and my mind races. Who would want to read this? Who wants to read anything I write? I can’t write ads for cereal boxes. Look at me, about to gut Strix and start it over for the third time. My writing sucks, and hey, I could also be a better friend, sister, daughter, employee….

I haven’t deleted this draft yet. This is progress.

Many writers are prone to fits of insecurity and self-doubt. We all know the stereotype: the tortured writer pulling their hair out, utterly convinced they’re nothing more than a hack.

Sometimes, it isn’t about writing.

My paralyzed silence isn’t entirely writing-related. A while back, I was informed that by asking my friends for help following my dad’s death, I was being a self-absorbed burden on the people I loved most.

It still bothers me.

For the past few weeks—about as long as I’ve been struggling to write anything—anxiety over my friends has been tearing me to pieces. Are they sick of me? Why can’t I just be my old self again? I totally am a burden. I’m no fun. Who in their right mind would want to hang out with this sack o’ sad?

And if I had a nickel for every time someone’s said, “That’s ridiculous. We’re your friends,” I could enjoy a lovely early retirement at the age of 22.

Right here, at this point right…now, I really want to give up on this blog post and withdraw back under my covers. Let’s see if we can make it through.

Because here is the connection. I’ve become scared to come out of my shell in real life, for fear that people will just think, “Pfft, KT, still sad over everything. Why can’t she keep her thoughts inside like a big girl?”

What that comment did several months ago was punch every button in my psyche, confirm every whisper that says, “You’re worthless, they don’t like you, they just feel sorry for you, and you’d better watch it because I don’t think you read social cues well enough to tell the difference.

“No one cares.”

And it’s that last one that’s damning for writers in particular. For fiction to work, people have to care. There is no tangible benefit to fiction. Not like there is to something like deck-building. If a deck-builder comes to my house and I pay them money, I get a deck at the end. If I go to a bookstore, buy a book, and read it, I have a book.

But I didn’t pay money for a bundle of processed wood product. Really, I paid for things that don’t exist: characters, places, and events that someone made up. Also a whole bunch of new thoughts, ideas, and feelings…but those only come if I’m willing to invest some part of myself into the figments of someone else’s imagination. Fiction doesn’t work if no one cares.

But if you’ve somehow convinced yourself that no one cares about you, the intrinsic, essential you, then it logically follows that no one would care about the products of your mind.

That “X” button at the top right hand corner looks tempting…but I will finish this.

I’ve been spending a lot of time hiding out in my room because I can’t face imposing myself on my housemates. I’m quiet in choir because it’s easier to stay behind the safety of my walls. My days in the brewery are my saving grace because I’m distracted by things I love, but I can run the historic kitchen on autopilot—and autopilot is dangerous because it lets me spend too much time in my own head.

Silence feels safer. But silence inevitably spirals into nights lost to tears and nightmares. And inevitably reminds me of the Silence:

It’s the same with writing. Not writing feels safer. But none of us got into writing because it seemed safe. We got into writing because there was something we had to say, some story we had to tell.

I have to tell stories about six-winged redheaded goddesses and rural villages hiding dark secrets. I have to talk about my heroes’ endless searches for safe harbours and the terrible costs of my villains’ isolation and rigidity.

And sometimes I just have to say:

I am sad.

– KT

We did it. Thank you for reading.

When you SHOULDN’T be writing

For a number of years, I Should Be Writing has been both one of my staple podcasts and an inspirational mantra. Personally, I’ve found it useful in re-directing my focus. Facebook’s hold is a lot easier to break when you can exclaim out loud, “Wait a second—I should be writing!”

It’s a principle we hear a lot. Writing every day keeps you writing, every day. A writer is someone who writes. Write or die. Don’t break the chain. The first rule is write. BIC: Bottom In Chair.

Again, all good ideas. If you’re spending your time on the Internet, TV, and random chores that really could wait a few hours, and getting a few hundred words every few days, your chances of finishing that story/novel/script are about nil.

However, this write-at-all-costs mindset overlooks the fact that sometimes, you really shouldn’t be writing.

I learned this the hard way. Looking back through the archives, I realize that I have been blogging about Strix/The Next One for far too long. This book has taken me too long. Partly, this is because I couldn’t find the way into the story. Partly, I realize in hindsight, I was writing when I shouldn’t have been.

Let’s rewind. Exactly one year ago, I was in New Zealand, starting Strix. I was experiencing culture shock. I was homesick. I was adapting to a new university. I was in a somewhat-difficult living situation. Then I was backpacking, never in one place for more than three days, writing in noisy hostels after being outside from sunrise to sunset.

The book I wrote was not very good.

MillPond

Yes, I missed this.

When you look at how it was written, that’s perhaps not terribly surprising. Of course, I don’t want to pin all of Strix’s problems on the circumstances—realistically, I just didn’t do a very good job—but they certainly didn’t help.

While I was editing Strix, a lot of family stuff was happening. At one point, I was overwhelmed enough to stumble into a priest’s office.

A week after that, my dad died unexpectedly.

And yet, I still tried to edit the damn thing. I gave myself an extra month, ignored everyone telling me to take it slow, and churned out a first pass before fleeing to Virginia for a few days.

My first real, slow sinking feeling occurred when I realized I’d forgotten to include chapter twelve…and my first readers hadn’t noticed.

I sent Gabrielle an apology, and worked feverishly on a new first pass. A few weeks later, I got this DM: “I finished Strix. Can we chat?”

End result? I’m all but starting from scratch. And yes, Gabrielle was absolutely right (I cannot stress enough just how fortunate I am to work with her). It will be a much better book this way, and where before Strix felt like an obligation, now I’m actually excited to write it. And yes, she not only gave me permission to share this, she suggested it.

Hindsight is a powerful tool. Again, I take responsibility for Strix’s problems; I chose to keep writing in the face of advice to the contrary. However, it’s possible that if I had waited, I might not have found myself in the current situation.

This is what it felt like.

Sometimes, it seems like we think we can push through anything, write through anything. After all, suffering feeds art, right? We can write through pain, turn it into grist for the mill, and ignore all stress and exhaustion in the name of our art.

Well, no.

There’s a guilt that builds up around not-writing. It can be blessing and curse: it keeps you writing, but sometimes it creates anxiety over “not being a writer” where there really isn’t cause for it. As regards to turning hardship into story…yes, this can be done. Writing is cheaper than therapy. However, there is a caveat. One of the best pieces of advice that I received (which I nodded at, agreed with, and then promptly didn’t act on) came from my ever-wise friend Blythe:

“You shouldn’t use things until you’ve dealt with them.”

Yeah. That.

Homesickness in Dunedin and grief in Toronto. Both colour Strix—neither did so in terribly effective ways. Mentally, psychologically, spiritually, I wasn’t ready. And that’s ok. If you are not ready, if you are not able, it is ok not to write. In fact, you probably shouldn’t be writing. It is easy to think in absolutes and hold writing above all else, but it can be damaging, and that hurts the quality of your work.

If you are in great physical or emotional pain, you may not write well.

If you are undergoing major life changes, you may not write well.

If your environment lacks stability, you may not write well.

If you have other major upheavals happening—work, family, whatever—that must be dealt with and require a great deal of energy, you may not write well.

Really, it’s ok. It’s natural, it’s human. But it’s worth recognizing. Know your limits, and know that waiting in the short term may save you lots of work in the long run. Sometimes, admitting, “I can’t” is braver than saying, “I’ll try.”

I’m still not functioning at 100%, but I know that I am functioning well enough, and that my current circumstances are peaceful and stable enough, to try Strix again. For reals, this time.

Best wishes to all of you on your own journeys—and remember to rest, if you need to.

-KT

New Year’s Post

For a while, I thought about not doing a New Year’s post.

With my loss still so raw, and the grief only now really hitting, I have rarely been happier to see the tail end of a year. Except then, I got to thinking. Taking the entire year into account, 2012 was too big to be ignored. It was a year of immense growth and opportunity: from backpacking through the South Pacific, to meeting (and befriending!) some pretty incredible people, to strengthening friendships back home, to publishing and podcasting, to discovering where “home” really is for me.

Like I said, a big year.

It was a year of heights, of suddenly finding myself on mountaintops (literally and metaphorically) and wondering how on earth I’d gotten there. There was a LOT of good in 2012. It’s important to remember that: that oftentimes, I was stunned by how happy I was.

2012 started with a bang, but it definitely ends with a whimper. Some of my personal dreams came true this year, but so too did some of my nightmares. I had tears in my eyes as I stood atop Mt. Victoria and finally gazed across Wellington. I had tears in my eyes as I stood in the cemetery.

From one extreme to the other.

097

But it’s no longer 2012. My Twitter-pal (and one of the charming hosts of the Roundtable Podcast) Dave Robison recently said something about New Year’s being just another day, that we can make changes any day of the year.

It’s true, but I think the start of the year is a good time to take a breath, to mentally prepare for those changes and plans.

2012 was a great year, writing-wise. I’m optimistic 2013 will be even better. Frankly, I have a better idea of what I’m doing. Graduating means I’ll have more time (as was helpfully pointed out to me, my “day job” will really be just that—something on the side, a daytime diversion as I put my energy into writing). Oh man, when I think of all those hours spent reading articles, going to class, and writing essays…I’m so excited to put that time into fiction.

As I start putting the shambles of my life back in order, and figure out how to live around this huge, gaping hole, I’m more grateful than ever for what I have. I have some pretty awesome people in all parts of my life. Tired and sad as I am, I’m actually kind of cautiously hopeful for 2013. It feels like 2012 was a build-up, December was a breaking point, and 2013…

Well. I guess we’ll find out.

With thanks,

KT

In which I visit the hospital

The sun was out for the first time all day. My boss had just called to see if I could work next week (in my favourite building, no less!). My roommate and I were eating freshly baked cake. I was whiling away the last hour or so before I needed to leave for a pool party. Life was pretty good.

And then—

“Whoa. What’s wrong with my hands?”

Small, flattish red bumps covered the backs of my hands. They seemed to spread as I watched, covering more and more space, though not really venturing past my wrists. I checked my feet, and found a few around my toes.

“Hives,” was Gemma’s diagnosis. In general, she’s not the type to accept much nonsense. As her boyfriend and mother both have epi-pens, she is even less inclined to do so with allergies—especially when you don’t know what’s causing them. And so, I was  quickly dosed up with Benedryl, given copious amounts of water, and, when the hives refused to fade and my throat started tightening, bundled off to the emergency room.

Here’s an effective way of getting attention in a hospital: state, “I have hives, my throat feels tight, and we have no idea what’s causing it.”

We moved quickly through triage (I could only laugh at the question, “Have you travelled outside of North America in the past thirty days?”) and into a curtained-off corner of another room. For the next while, I answered questions, while Gemma provided additional details.

Yes, I thought I might be allergic to wasps, but have never actually had that tested. No, I hadn’t been stung by a wasp. No, I hadn’t used any new detergents or soap. No, I hadn’t gone walking barefoot through any parks. No, I’ve lived in this house for a year. Yes, I had started drinking almond milk instead of regular milk, but I’d been doing it for over a week and hadn’t had any since that morning.

“Well,” one doctor said, observing the new splotches on my feet. “I think you’re having an allergic reaction.”

Thanks.

Apparently at a loss, they decided to give me more Benedryl, this time via an injection into my muscle. Here’s an effective way of getting hospital staff to treat you like you’re six: stare at the giant, pokey needle, clutch your friend’s hand, and stammer, “Will it hurt?”

I still maintain that a fear of needles is perfectly rational.

They left us a while longer while the antihistamines did their work. The spots faded, but all the combined Benedryl took its toll as reality felt increasingly dreamlike and I drowned beneath a wave of drowsiness. I tried to chat with Gemma, but I think my side of the conversation stopped making sense. However, I do remember that we both decided it might be a bad idea to take a picture of myself looking sad in a hospital bed, post it online, and caption it, “In ER. Just got a huge shot. Doctors have no idea what’s wrong with me.”

But, eventually, the doctors decided the hives had calmed enough to let me go. They wrote me a prescription for an epi-pen, gave me instructions to come back immediately if I experienced any facial swelling or throat closing, and sent me on my way.

As soon as we got home, I hit my bed, slept for an hour, woke up for a brief conversation with Gemma, and fell asleep again until just now.

 I’ve been told that hives recur, and since we don’t know what caused them in the first place, they may come back. So, just a general announcement: if you see me with bumpy, angry-looking hands and feet, don’t worry. I probably don’t have the plague.

Probably.

KT

North Island Ahoy!

 

I have about an hour’s worth of internet here in Taupo, so I thought I’d spend some of it updating here, since my internet in Fiji next week will be really, really patchy( maybe expect not to hear from me at all).

To get to the North Island, I took the ferry.

Prior to this, my only ferrying experience had been the Toronto Islands Ferry. So, I was envisioning passengers crossing the Cook Strait on hard, wooden benches, stamping their feet on corrugated metal decks to stay warm, and occasionally running into a cramped, dingy washroom.

It wasn’t like that.

The Interislander Ferry I took could fit about 500 people and their cars (as opposed to the ones without cars, which fit a few thousand). I never did figure out how many decks, but at least five. There were multiple bars, a playground, and a cinema. Instead of hard benches, the seating areas had padded armchairs clustered in quartets, with tables between.

As I took my seat, I was gloating. “I get to do this voyage again in July!”

I was at the front of the vessel, and since there was an observation deck overlooking the nose (bow, I guess, if we want to be all nautical), I spent the first part of the voyage out there, gaping as we cruised by the ridiculously green Marlborough Sounds.

When we hit open waters, I retreated inside for some writing time. But then, it hit.

Seasickness.

I never get seasick. Not that I’m on boats that much, but still. What’s more, the seas were light, and I was on a floating airport lounge.

Still seasick.

After curling into a tight ball failed to cure anything, I grabbed a “travel sickness” bag and went back on deck, hoping to get some wind on my face and the horizon in view. All that happened was that I got cold, and very nearly lost my gloves overboard.

Eventually, I fell asleep out of sheer misery, and only woke up when we entered the Wellington Harbour, and the waves turned into ripples.

And thus, my glorious arrival on the North Island.

Keeping a Cool Head

I know I typically post towards the end of the week, but I did have a few things I wanted to discuss.

I now have all four of my essays back. Three of the four went as expected, and I was happy. Perhaps I got complacent. Actually, I did get complacent, because the last one absolutely blindsided me.

I passed, but it’s a great deal lower than the marks I usually get, and I’m not pleased. For those who know me well, this is (for once) not a case of my having ridiculously high standards. Trust me, you would not be pleased either.

So: shock, and if I’m being honest, some anger. And as long as I am being completely honest, my first instinct was to snap, to rave, and vent.

But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m taking a second, sober look, and I think that, in this case, the principle of “Pick Your Battles” applies.

This was not the most amazing piece of academic writing I have ever produced. The others weren’t my best either, but they were still better. However… I’m on exchange. Yes, it is called Study Abroad for a reason, but realistically, I’m here just as much for the learning outside the classroom. I can learn history anywhere. There are some things about myself, and about life, that I can only learn in New Zealand. Presumably for this reason, every class I take here is judged at home on a pass/fail basis. As long as I pass, I get the credit, but the mark will never, ever show up on my University of Toronto transcript, and does not factor into my GPA.

So really, it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that in a nihilistic way, but rather in a “it is not particularly relevant to my ultimate goals” kind of way. When I’ve cooled off, I’ll see if there’s anything I can learn from the comments, but otherwise, getting upset over a paper that will not affect my GPA or my grad school prospects seems like a waste of energy.

Moreover, it reminds me that the time is coming when I’ll be looking at reviews, which is the other reason why I am choosing to let this go. When I get my first negative review, am I going to rant? No, of course not. I don’t want to be That Person. Again, this is training to Pick Your Battles.

The “good” thing about rejection, bad reviews, and bad essays is that you can usually learn something from them. But if not… then perhaps a bit of perspective helps. One bad review in a heap of good ones loses some of its bite. One bad essay in three years of university looks less like an indictment of my academic skills and more like a bump in the road. And when I think about all the things I’ve done and seen in New Zealand… I know that those experiences are far more valuable to me as a person than one more A would be.

As I mentioned earlier, I do set high standards for myself. I want to do well. I want to write well, and tell good stories, and perform good history. But when things don’t go as I’d hoped… well, then I simply ask for the ability to handle them with grace and dignity.