Tag Archives: Alastair

On not giving up

I’m well aware that the pace of my blogging has really fallen off since South Africa. I’d like to say that this is because my life here in London is so much fuller, but that’s not entirely true. It’s definitely partly true — I am no longer effectively housebound, like I was in Joburg! — but I also spend a fair amount of my day doing things like participating in a one-woman Sons of Anarchy marathon (hey, it’s paid work, lay off me!), knitting, cooking, and reading, so it’s not like I have that many pressing errands to do in my day-to-day life. The truth is, I can be a bit lazy when it comes to blogging.

Another thing that has kept me from blogging is that I’ve been in the Slump to End All Slumps, writing-wise. I’m in limbo with a lot of my projects right now, waiting for people to get back to me (which can fairly be translated to: “waiting to be rejected”). It’s kind of demoralizing. I wrote here about how, as a writer, I experience ebbs and flows, but really, for the last year, it’s been mostly flows. Then I hit this major ebb a few weeks ago, and it sort of threw me for a loop. Weeks dragged by in which I had to force myself to write even a few hundred words each day, and I hated every single one of those words. There were even a couple of nights where I let myself cry, rather self-indulgently, and told Al that maybe I should just give up this whole writing thing and go back to being a lawyer. Al talked me off the ledge, but really, I was never on the ledge. I was peering at the ledge from afar, but I wasn’t actually going to go up close to it. Really, I just felt like complaining. I know in my heart that even when writing sucks and I feel like everything I produce is crap and everyone hates me, it’s still better than being an attorney. But it’s worth acknowledging that it’s not all sunshine and unicorns, either. Writing is hard. Rejections are really hard. Who knew?

Sometimes, even caffeine isn't enough.

Sometimes, even caffeine isn’t enough.

The thing is, though, I’m not going to give up. If all the writers of the world gave up because they hit a month-long snag in which things didn’t go their way, we’d have no books. Plus, maybe this monster ebb is a good thing, in the great scheme of things. The interesting thing about this period in my life is that it’s genuinely challenging me. It’s been a while since I’ve had to struggle to make things happen for myself: I graduated high school, went to college, graduated college, secured a job, worked for a year, went to law school, secured another job, and worked for three years. And then I quit that job, walked away from all the support structures that I had built around myself during my brief career as a lawyer, and embarked on something that required me to build all necessary ladders and bridges for myself. This is what entrepreneurs and writers and artists have to do, but it ain’t easy, and it can be discouraging. But if there’s one thing I learned growing up, it’s that you don’t give up on things just because they are hard (thanks, Ma and Dad for forcing me to do all those sports I was terrible at!). So, I’m keeping on keeping on. Just thought I’d let you guys know.

Also, I am happy to report that I think I am finally breaking out of my über-slump. The other day, I felt a tiny spark of inspiration and rode that wave for three hours, finally finishing a draft of a short story I had been dawdling over and feeling lukewarm about for weeks. Since then, I’ve felt my mojo coming back, bit by bit, and that’s a huge relief. And, in other news, I’m also feeling excited about the fact that Al is taking me to Oslo this weekend for my birthday. He kept it a surprise until last night (although he gave me really cryptic clues along the way, many of which had to do with Detective Harry Hole), and now that I know where we’re going, I am beyond excited. I will report back next week on our Nordic adventure.

Enjoy your Friday and weekend, and keep on trucking.


One year later

It’s been a whole year since I wrote my first post on this blog, in which I fretted about moving to South Africa while recovering from a bout of typhoid fever and an über-traumatic last week at the law firm. In the intervening year, as with most years, a lot has happened. We’ve moved from the US to South Africa to the UK. We’ve traveled to a bunch of new countries. I’ve launched a fledgling writing career. We’ve made new friends. I’ve discovered sewing and rediscovered knitting. Overall, my life is a lot better than it used to be, and I wake up most days looking forward to the day to come.

But when I stop and think about it, it actually doesn’t feel like a whole year has passed. Perhaps this is because all of the big life changes over the past year — quitting my job, moving abroad, starting a new career — happened in rapid succession, and I’ve just spent the rest of the year adjusting to a new routine. The year marker also feels a bit arbitrary, because we’re still in the midst of our big International Adventure, and it doesn’t seem appropriate to do any real retrospective thinking until I’m back in the US and can look at my time abroad with some remove.

A year in, though, here are a few things I can say that I have learned so far:

  1. I like routine. And I like feeling like I have a home. I wrote about this here and my feelings on the matter have only become more acute, because Al and I have had to pick up and move within London several times since then. We’ve been in our current apartment for less than a week and we’re moving again tomorrow. It’s a giant pain. When you move so frequently, and with such short notice, it’s not even worth unpacking your suitcases. I hate that. As much as I love seeing different parts of London, I long for a settled place in the city, somewhere I can use the drawers and closets and get into a comfortable routine. I guess there’s nothing like living like a (reasonably well-to-do) vagabond for an extended period of time that makes one appreciate the comforts of home. Also, it teaches you flexibility. And flexibility is good, right?
  2. South Africa was a mix of good and bad, and that’s okay. Just the other night, I was telling Al that there are certain things I miss about South Africa. The weather, for one. The intense, clear blue of the sky. The vivid sunsets. That wintry wood-smoke smell. Our big, roomy apartment with the little balcony and barbecue. Our car, as unreliable and beat-up as it was. The cost of living. The steak. The wine. But, I realized, it’s possible for me to miss all of that and still never want to live in Joburg again. It’s also possible to say that I disliked Joburg as a city but liked our life there. Life is tricky like that.
  3. Rejections are tough. Enough said.
  4. Having a support network is important. Duh.
  5. I miss the US, but I’m not desperate to go back. I think maybe in the spring, or even after New Year’s, I’ll feel really ready to go back to the States. But right now, I’m content to stay in London a bit longer; I really like it here. (It would just help if we could nail down the housing situation.)
  6. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone but Al. The thing that no one tells you about having an international adventure is that it’s full of annoyances. Living abroad, it turns out, requires juggling an immense amount of logistics. And logistics are a pain in the ass. It helps to have a partner who you like when you’re trying to figure out how to not go bat-poop insane when you have to move for the fourth time in a month, or when your power goes out, or when you get not one but two flat tires in a foreign country, or what have you. Living abroad, even in a cushy, convenient place like London, is always a challenge. If you and your partner come out  of it still liking each other and wanting to travel together, so much the better. Being here with Al has reinforced what I already knew about him: he’s patient, adventurous, and flexible. He also listens to me when I whine about having to pack up my knitting stuff. He gets it. Getting it is important.  IMG_4334
  7. Being abroad makes me more aware of my Americanness. There are two sides to this coin, of course. Occasionally, I’ll see something that will make me feel smug and superior because I know my country has its s**t figured out on that issue. Walking on one side of the sidewalk, for instance. America has that DOWN. England? Not so much. Another example: Chinese food. England, please take notes on this. And don’t even get me started on Mexican food. But then, there are other things that make me realize how a**-backwards certain things are in my beloved country. There are the obvious examples (healthcare! education! Miley Cyrus!) but there are also subtle things. Like, in London, MOST movie theaters that I’ve been to serve booze. In DC, I can only think of one movie theater off the top of my head (The E Street Cinema) that does that. What gives, America? Also, London’s public transportation system is great, the post office is quick and efficient (which, as an American, is mind-blowing), and they have double-decker buses. Makes me think America needs to get on the ball, and fast. But then I’ll watch an episode of Hens Behaving Badly or see a drunk girl peeing in the street at ten o’clock at night and I’ll go right back to feeling smug and superior. So, it’s a mixed bag.
  8. I am officially too old to stay in hostels with shared bathrooms. There, I said it.

I’ve probably learned other things along the way but those are the big ones. So, I’m just going to continue enjoying my time abroad and figuring things out. Maybe I’ll check back in a year from now and tell you what else I’ve learned.

Happy birthday to Al

Tomorrow is Alastair’s birthday. As I mentioned in this post, he is twenty-two days my senior, which allows me to say, with a straight face, that I am married to an “older, foreign gentleman.” It makes being married to a Canadian who is a couple weeks older than me sound positively intriguing, doesn’t it?

I have many birthday festivities planned for Al this year, several of which I cannot reveal at this time, in the interest of maintaining the crucial element of birthday surprise. But I can reveal that these plans will include (but will not be limited to) the following: chocolate, sparkling wine, regular wine, food(s) of various sorts, handmade item(s) by yours truly, and more chocolate. Al, deny it as he may, is a big chocolate fan. There is historical proof of this:


Implied message from baby Al: this entire cake is MINE.

In the interest of getting birthday-ready, and since I am at a good pausing point with all of my various writing projects, I am thinking about taking the day off to make and bake things. So, off I go!

Happy (almost) birthday, Al! I love you!


We spent this weekend in Edinburgh, one of my favorite places in Scotland, visiting family and attending some shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I hadn’t been to Edinburgh (or the Festival) since 2008, so it was fun to be back in such a beautiful, charming city and to hang out with Al’s family, some of whom I hadn’t met yet.

Edinburgh sunset

Edinburgh sunset

Al and I took the train from London on Thursday evening, got in quite late, and then spent Friday working; playing with Sweeney, the dog owned by our hosts, Steve and Alan; walking around Leith, their neighborhood; and attending a show at the Festival.


IMG_3979I managed to snag us two tickets to see David Sedaris speak on Friday evening. Sedaris is one of my favorite authors and I love his speaking voice. I had actually seen him speak years ago in San Francisco, back when I was in college, but it was at a big venue (The Warfield, I think) and I was in the nosebleed seats. This time, the venue was much more intimate and, to my delight, Sedaris did a book signing after and Al and I got to meet him! This was terribly exciting for me. I was a bit nervous when I approached, clutching my new copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day, but Sedaris is utterly charming and immediately put me at ease. We talked about TV and he recommended that I check out two shows (Inside Amy Schumer and Please Like Me). He also expressed his fondness for Tim Gunn, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Tabitha’s Salon Takeover. All the more reason to adore this man. And, of course, he signed my book (and drew a little owl). I was on a high for the rest of the weekend, post-Sedaris encounter. 

Recommendations on TV shows

Recommendations on TV shows

I would like to note that David Sedaris' handwriting looks a LOT like mine. Just saying.

I would like to note that David Sedaris’ handwriting looks a LOT like mine. Just saying.

On Saturday, while Al was working, I went for a run along the Water of Leith. Everything was going great: the sun was shining (through sprinkles of rain), birds were chirping, the world was in harmony — and then I fell. Hard. I fell so hard that I managed to scrape both knees, both hands, and my left thigh. I also seemed to have sprained the little finger on my right hand (did I do a full-body roll? I can’t remember! It’s all a blur). But the worst part, beside the fact that my tumble was witnessed by several kindly (read: pitying) Scottish people, was that I shattered my iPhone screen. Here’s the thing: skin will heal. Bones will knit. But a shattered iPhone screen is forever. The last time I shattered my iPhone screen, four years ago, I was in Boston and took it to the Apple store. They glanced at it and told me that my phone had clearly suffered from “customer abuse” and was therefore not under warranty, and I was forced to pay $180 for a new screen. The outrage! But in the UK, if your iPhone screen breaks, you just bring it to a phone repair store — not an official Apple store — and they’ll fix it for you in an hour, charge you 50 GBP, and be done with it. So I got my screen fixed at a kiosk in the mall, and all is right in the world again. Except for that sprained finger. But whatever.


After recovering from the excitement of my fall, I headed into town with Al, his cousin Kathryn, and her boyfriend James, to attend our next show at the Festival, The Ginge, The Geordie, and The Geek, a three-man sketch comedy team. I enjoyed it, especially the last sketch, which was a reenactment of the final dance scene from Dirty Dancing featuring a man on a diet and a giant slice of pizza. After that, we met up with Steve and Alan and went to see Tig Notaro, an American comedian who I love. I had never heard or seen her standup before, but I listen to her podcast, Professor Blastoff, and I’ve heard her perform on This American Life, so I was expecting good things, and she did not disappoint. I was laughing my face off — almost crying, I was laughing so hard — so when it was over, I was pretty shocked that Steve and Alan didn’t like it. They thought her style was “awkward.” Um, yeah, I thought. That’s the point. It got me thinking about the differences between American comedy and UK comedy, and the fact that some American comedians play on timing (especially long pauses) to make their jokes funnier. I think awkwardness, done well, can be hilarious — and I wonder if I think that way because I’m American and we’re more used to that style of comedy. Steve and Alan told me that in Britain, comedy is more straightforward and fast-paced, which is fine, I guess, but it surprised me that they didn’t appreciate Tig’s style, which was unscripted and involved a lot of audience interaction and improvisation. Then again, I’m sort of a comedy nerd, so maybe I’m just accustomed to the weirdness. But to be fair, reviewers seemed to love the show, so it’s not just me (see, for example, this review from The Telegraph). In any case, I had a blast and came away from the Festival feeling satisfied with everything I saw (although, to be honest, I could have just gone home after meeting David Sedaris and called it a day).

We spent the rest of our time in Edinburgh visiting with Al’s family, playing with dogs, eating good food, and hanging out. It was a great weekend.

Breakfast at the beach, Portobello

Breakfast at the beach in Portobello with Steve, Alan, and Sweeney

Kathryn, James, and me at the Festival

Kathryn, James, and me at the Festival


Gratuitous selfie

See you soon, Edinburgh!


This is my 100th post on this blog! And yesterday marked one year of marriage to my wonderful husband, Alastair. Milestones abound!


Evidence of our wedding day is all over the internet — I wrote about it here, and it’s popped up here — but one of my favorite relics of our wedding day, May 12, 2012, is this very short video made by our great photographers, Leah and Mark:

Ugh, I love that video so much it hurts!

Our wedding was a fabulous day, and the best part of the whole thing was coming out of it with Al as my husband. He is SUCH a catch. I knew it before I married him, but after a year of having him as my official life partner, I now know it even more. Al has been the most relentlessly supportive person in my life since making my Big Decision to quit my lucrative law job and throw in my lot with the starving artists of the world by trying to become a writer. He is also hysterically funny, ridiculously sweet, smart as a whip, and, I must add, devilishly handsome.

This guy makes me laugh every single day.

This guy makes me laugh every single day.

Our first year of marriage was not necessarily a cake-walk in terms of life events: I got typhoid fever and quit my job in the same week (both of which were fairly traumatic), we moved from D.C. to South Africa, Al had to adjust to a very challenging work environment, I received my first rejection letters, and, you know, life happened. But marriage-wise? Piece of cake. All of the obstacles I’m faced with as I go through life seem infinitely more surmountable with Al as my permanent cheerleader, and I love that I’m also able to be there for him, cheering him on, as he faces his own challenges. I love having dinner together, watching bad TV together, having travel adventures (both successful and fail-tastic) together, and generally just muddling through life together as a team. Marrying him was one of the best life choices I’ve ever made.

No, seriously. He makes me laugh EVERY DAY.

No, seriously. He makes me laugh EVERY DAY.

Thank you, Al, for being you. And here’s to many more years of getting up to stuff together.



What’s a nerd?

My husband and I have an ongoing friendly debate about who was nerdier as a child, which always gives way to a debate about what actually makes one a nerd.

Al advocates for a more narrow, traditional definition of the word “nerd.”  He’s a nerd originalist. In his book, a nerd is someone who is interested in most or all of the following: science fiction (defined broadly to include the Star Wars franchise, among others), fantasy role playing games (with Dungeons and Dragons being the most obvious choice for the budding young nerd), space travel, math, and certain video/computer games.  Also, weapons.

And whatever this thing is.

My definition of nerdiness, however, is concerned less with one’s specific interests than with how different one’s interests are from those of one’s peers, especially in middle and high school.  This goes beyond mere social alienation: I mean, if nerdiness could be measured by how alienated one felt in middle school, then I would be the biggest nerd to walk the Earth.  But it takes more than being picked on to be considered a nerd, since one can be bullied or feel out of place while also having completely mainstream interests. I think nerdiness also entails a passion about things that others of your age are not into.

By my husband’s definition of nerdism, young Stephanie would definitely not be considered a nerd.  But here, for your consideration, is a short list of things I was really into in middle school:

  • Band (I played clarinet)
  • Manga and anime (there’s a BIG difference, you guys – just ask 12-year-old me), especially Ranma 1/2
  • Chinese language movies and literature
  • The Civil War (not the cool band — the war)
  • Monty Python
  • The Beatles
  • Egyptian mythology
  • Knitting and latch-hooking
  • Teddy bear conventions (yes, this is a thing)
  • The Redwall books, by Brian Jacques
  • Dog breeds, cat breeds, horse breeds, bird breeds
  • Weird Al Yankovic (I was a member of his fan club, the Close Personal Friends of Al)

I was also into computer games.

I’d also like to add that in middle school, I was a subscriber to Cat Fancy, Dog Fancy, Ellory Queen Mystery Magazine, and a quarterly Beatles fan magazine that was sent to me in Michigan via air mail from England.  I asked for the subscription for my birthday.   My interests as a middle schooler were not necessarily what one would call “tweeny.”

Al, meanwhile, was into, among other things, creating pen-and-ink labyrinths for his friends, playing Magic the Gathering, and reading sci-fi epics.

So — who’s right? Who was nerdier?  Could young Stephanie’s collection of esoteric and now-embarrassing interests be considered nerdy, despite the lack of sci-fi involved?  Or is Al the true nerd here and I was just, what, autistic?  It’s hard to say.

It’s also hard to say why we are both so eager to prove our cred as nerdy little kids.  Perhaps because we like to think we’ve come a long way (we haven’t).  But perhaps also because being a nerd carries a bit of cache these days.  People like to brag about being “huge nerds” about x, y, or z, whether it’s true or not.  Claiming to be a nerd proves that you’re passionate about something, that you’re not a follower, that you’re plugged into interests that others are only dimly aware of — these days, being a nerd is almost the same thing as being a hipster.  People use both terms — nerd and hipster — derisively, but let’s be honest, there are plenty of people who secretly aspire to both.  Plus, let’s face it, if you weren’t a nerd in middle school, you were probably cool in middle school, and we all know what happens to kids who were cool in middle school: it’s all downhill from there, I’m afraid.

Since I’ve met Al, his brand of nerdiness has rubbed off on me.  I have read all five books in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, I’ve seen at least part of two Star Wars movies, I know what a Dungeonmaster is, and I’ve watched two and a half torturous seasons of Battlestar Galactica.  So I guess I’m moving toward traditional nerd-dom, although it’s not where I feel most comfortable.

I’d like to think that my sprawling collection of odd interests has rubbed off on Al, too, but I’m not sure that’s true.  I’ve forced him to listen to a couple of the comedy podcasts I like (including this one) and have convinced him to read a couple of the books I love (such as these), but my influence on him has largely been a corrupting one – I’ve mostly just introduced him to reality TV and crime.

Ah, well.  Maybe we can agree to disagree on what a nerd really is.  I suppose I prefer to think of myself as a nerdy child because the alternatives are too disheartening.  In any case, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve encountered more and more people who are into the weird things that I’m into.  This has happened organically, both through the magic of the internet and in real life.  Turns out that a lot of smart, funny adults were also into a bunch of weird crap as kids.  Odds are, I probably wasn’t the only eleven-year-old who used to tape reruns of Ready, Steady, Go on VHS and rewatch it over and over again. I think.

Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that when Al and I have kids, they’ll be free to explore a wide range of interests, nerdy or not.  As long as they’re not cool in middle school, we’ll be happy.