Oct 31, 2010

The In Between Place

I'm going to tell you a secret.

I have a strange phobia.  Some people are scared of spiders, others are scared of heights.  Snakes, bees, being enclosed in small spaces, these are all pretty common fears.

But me, I'm scared of the in between places.  Those spaces between two rungs of a ladder.  The tiny holes between the bars of metro grids.  Anything, really, that requires me to step from one place, to another, with emptiness in the middle.  Doesn't make a difference if it's 100 meters off the ground or one centimeter.  Those fragments of nothingness bloody freak me out.

I'm in an in between place right now.  A big, gaping nothing between France and Switzerland.  I'm not home anymore, but I'm not here, either.  I'm somewhere in between.  Lost.  Neither foot is touching the ground, and if something doesn't stick soon, I may spin out of control into never never land where the lost satellites go.

Oct 26, 2010

Celebrating small victories

I'm paying a million francs a minute for this internet connection, and I'm late for an apartment viewing, but I just had to tell you...

An agent has asked to see my full manuscript!!!!

[insert flash animation of Little Swiss Miss Res jumping up and down, bouncy castle style]

Speaking of which, anyone else miss bouncy castles?

Oct 23, 2010

Spartacus Helveticus

One week in Switzerland.  I came.  I saw.  I froze my little French behind off.  I conquered.

Here's what you missed.

Monday:  Wake up at stupid o'clock.  Squeeze into suit.  Remark that I was thinner back in my BM days.  Get driven to work by my new boss at CoolCo Sub.  Take possession of my office (shared) and my computer (with unmanageable Swiss keyboard).  At 9am, take coffee break with 8 of the 10 employees of CoolCo Sub (2 are on holiday).  Learn that 9am coffee break is a daily thing.  Feel happy.  After day spent in training, am told work finishes at 6pm.  Refuse to believe them.  At 6.15, am last person in office and get kicked out by cleaning lady.  Feel confused.  Treck across town by tram to visit apartment.  Am one of at least fifty applicants.  Panic and go back to hotel.  Get second agent rejection.  Miss home.  Feel sad.

Tuesday:  Wake up at stupid o'clock.  Still grey and freezing cold in Helvetica.  CoolCo Sub still cool.  After 9am coffee break, am introduced to one-hour lunch break in the kitchen.  People cook.  I'm impressed.  I microwave something.  Do some more training.  After work, go to town centre and join German conversation group in bar.  All hell breaks loose when I tell them (in German, natürlich) that I work for CoolCo Sub.  Think this is a cool party trick.  Can't wait for my business cards to come in.

Wednesday:  Don't go to work this morning.  Instead, go register as Swiss resident.  It takes fifteen minutes and Swiss civil servant lady is the nicest person I've ever met.  Am tempted to give her a hug.  Then open Swiss bank account.  Feel like rich and famous person until banker asks me if I want to put money on my account and I realize I don't have any.  Still, manage the whole morning in German so feel pretty pleased with myself.

Thursday:  Wake up at stupid o'clock.  Finally, sun is shining.  Sky is clear and I realize there are snowy Alps outside window.  Gives me ski cravings.  No training at work today, actually have to do work.  Suddenly dawns on me no one has had my job before so no one knows what my "work" is.  Make up some stuff.  It goes down well.  Feel relieved.  Have afterwork drinks at very bohemian, un-Swiss place. 

Friday:  Feel very tired after one whole week of waking up at stupid o'clock.  Wonder if I will ever get used to this waking up in the morning thing after a year of author's life.  Top it off with three-hour long meeting with finance-types.  Hold my own, though.  Go to bed at 9.30pm on a Friday night instead of joining colleague for a party.  Feel sheepish.

Saturday:  Have a lie-in, followed by gigantic hotel breakfast.  Treck across town to see another apartment that is really too expensive.  Buy water boiler so I can make tea at hotel.  Have nice cup of tea while blogging.  Feel pretty OK about first week.

Oct 17, 2010

Swiss Post One

First impressions, stream-of-consciousness style.

My Twingo made it all the way in one piece and looks adorable parked between the Bentleys and Jags.  The travel stickers on the back are a particularly nice touch.  The man at the border was friendly when welcoming me into his country.  Switzerland is grey and wet and freezing cold this time of year.  But the forest behind the hotel is perfect to run in. Although my ears did almost fall off.  There is no bathrobe in my room, which defeats the entire purpose of hotel stays.  Food is good, though pricey.  I dare to dream that one day all hotels will provide free internet.  My new country of residence requires me to go through extensive administrative torture, all in the first week, and I have no idea when I will actually manage to go to the office.  Fitting an entire life's worth of belongings inside a single hotel bedroom (seriously, a single) is harder that solving world hunger.  Switzerland has this "glocal" website for expats which looks like it will do wonders for my social life (I hope).  My German skills have so far managed to get me through the day without intense embarrassment or imminent danger.  But I'm dying for some English TV channels (CSI in German is only half comprehensible).

Oh, and I got rejected by my first agent.  Although I suppose Switzerland is not to blame for that.

Never mind, at least now I have some serious aspiring novelist street cred.

Oct 15, 2010

Next Chapter

This is it.

Bags are packed (almost).  Twingo ready to go (hopefully).  I even have a new work email address all set up (gasp).  It's time to go.

Paris and Parisians, this is goodbye for now.  Next time you hear from me, little Res will be a little Swiss Miss.


Oct 12, 2010

My Life in a List

If you're a procrastinator like me, chances are you make lists.  Long ones, short ones, on the back of envelopes, in pretty lined notepads, lists you add to, lists you cross off, lists you forget, lists that breed more lists.

And when you're in the middle of finishing a novel, starting a new job and moving to Switzerland, the list-making gets so out of control you can't seem to find time to do anything else.

I've done less than half of the things I wrote down, but more than half of the things I didn't.  Which I guess makes it just about alright.

Things I have done:
  • Run 20k, miraculously sparing my knee but now waddling like a duck from the sore muscles;
  • Sent manuscripts to a total of 13 agents, bursting into tears over sealed envelopes ;
  • Spent a long weekend of Parisian sunshine with the Hottie;
  • Enjoyed champagne at the terrace of the Georges like a spoiled tourist;
  • Painted my toenails dark blue on a whim;
  • Read through over 450 INSEAD CVs, and others, to find "my team";
  • Bullshitted my way through conference calls and email chains for a job I haven't started yet;
  • Watched The Sound of Music again for the first time since I was eight.
Things I haven't:
  • Packed my things for the drive to Switzerland;
  • Found an apartment;
  • Gotten Swiss health insurance;
  • Resigned myself to the harsh reality of my imminent departure. 

Oct 4, 2010

Yes and No, Now and Later

The New Yorker has a great article today about procrastination.

I am a terrible procrastinator.  In the sense that I am very good at it.  You know what I mean.  I have these small explosions of activity - like sending off queries to five agents and blogging about it all before 10 a.m. - and then I spend the rest of the day doing nothing but watching silly TV shows and breaking up with a friend (more on that later).

Until it's time to go to bed, but I decide to pop open the computer "just for a bit", get absorbed in said New Yorker article and blog again.  Not quite a model of productivity, but it beats staring blankly at television pixels.

There were a few points made in the article that I found particularly interesting.

First, that procrastination doesn't make people happy.  If they're putting off something to do something more enjoyable, that's usually not thought of as procrastination.  Real procrastination involves not doing something and agonizing about it.  It is therefore completely irrational. 

Yup.  Sounds like me.

The second thing is that procrastinators are more often than not insecure perfectionists.  Apparently:
"Lack of confidence, sometimes alternating with unrealistic dreams of heroic success, often leads to procrastination, and many studies suggest that procrastinators are self-handicappers: rather than risk failure, they prefer to create conditions that make success impossible, a reflex that of course creates a vicious cycle. McClellan was also given to excessive planning, as if only the ideal battle plan were worth acting on."
Again, this all sounds eerily familiar.

Third and finally (naturally, the ex-BMer in me can't resist making three points), research suggests that procrastination often results from an inner battle within one's divided self.  Sometimes there really is a good angel and a bad angel sitting on your shoulders, and while they duke it out to decide which is the best course of action, you end up doing nothing at all or, worse, doing something vaguely in between and just messing it up altogether. 

Which brings me to my earlier point.  Wait, which point?  Fair question.  The one about the friend break-up.

I'm the kind of person that prides myself on being a good friend.  I may not always succeed but at least I try very, very hard.  But there are just some people, some people who know how to push all the right buttons and make me lash out at them in a way I am bound to be embarrassed about later, and profoundly regret.  And so I'll crawl back, make apologies - but taint the apologies in thinly veiled recriminations and buckets of self-pity.

I blame it on my divided self.  One of my selves really wants to be friends with these people (or this particular person who shall remain nameless for his sake).  The other self doesn't (because I bear a grudge, because I'm jealous, because I don't understand him).  Both selves are stubborn, doped up on steroids and refuse to admit defeat.  And so begins the endless "I hate you, come back" wars.

So tonight I think I broke up with my friend.  For his sake.  For both of mine.  Who knows.  And who knows how long it will be until I pretend it's all bygones and beg to be his friend again (because I love him, because I care, because he's wonderful) so we can start the whole miserable show over.

Think about it.  You have one of those people in your life too, don't you?  Well, now you know.  It's because of your divided self.  That's why you're procrastinating and haven't made a decision about whether to keep him in, or out, of your life.

The New Yorker said so, and thus it must be true.

Five Down

Eleven to go.

This is it.  The moment of truth.  I've started querying the first of my 16 carefully selected agents. 

For those of you who haven't spent the past year or so obsessed with the workings of the anglophone fiction publishing circus, lowly unpublished authors like myself can't just up and send a manuscript to editors willy-nilly.  Oh no.  Before any contact with editors is to be had, one must first bag oneself an Agent.

The Agent is the holy grail of the unpublished writer.  The Gateway to publication, the Saint Peter of literature.  And finding one involves hours of research, intense preparation and some pretty serious groveling.

The process goes something like this:

1.  Purchase the Writer's Yearbook, aka The Bible.  Even though you would think, in this day and age of the internet, such tomes would be unnecessary, you do it anyway because "They" say you should.

2.  Spend precious writing time reading through the list of thousands of agents and checking all their websites, to find the one agent that will be A Perfect Fit.

3.  Give up and just make up a random list.

4.  Check, double check, triple check exactly what you are supposed to send each of these agents so that they don't laugh you off the island.

5.  Write, re-write, throw away, start over, tear hair out over query letter to said agents.  End up with something along the lines of "Please agree to read a few pages of my novel.  It's amazing.  Not as amazing as you, obviously.  I love you.  Attached is my first-born."

6.  Wait.

7.  Wait some more.

8.  Move to Switzerland in despair at never hearing from agent.

It's oodles of fun.  Especially as most agents have never heard of the 21st century and actually still require you to snail mail over pages of manuscript. 

But I suppose it does lend the whole process a bit of a dramatic artistic aura.  If only I had penned my novel with a quill and ink in a haze of absinthe.