December 7th, 2020

New Plan Shakeup, Same Challenges

Germany – Fun While it Lasted

So when last I posted news, I was… Holy crap! Was it really that long ago? Anyway, when last I posted news I had only just barely arrived in Düsseldorf, with the intention of using it as a stepping stone to get a job and a home in Germany and be able to settle down there for a while. Yes, you read it correctly, I wrote “there”. More on that in a bit.

Right off the bat the scenario was a bit tricky. There was some degree of ambiguity over which approach I should favor. On the one hand, I could register immediately as a resident in Düsseldorf, then have to re-register somewhere else if I moved. On the plus side, this would have given me access to unemployment and the federal services’ help with my job search. But on the minus side, though it appears to only involve a simple form, many people have told me the bureaucracy of re-registering in a different location can be a pain in the ass.

Or I could start by finding a job, which would then allow me to get a more stable home. That would have allowed me to directly register as a resident in my final city. And that in turn was the option that gave me more flexibility. Although of course it would have come at the cost of all the assistance I could have had otherwise. Eventually I chose the second approach, which with hindsight was not the wiser option. Indeed, given how hapless I am in this stuff, it ended up precipitating the third option I eventually DID choose out of necessity. Either way, I enjoyed my time there while it lasted.

So for those three months I jumped around from hostel to CouchSurfers’ homes to AirBNBs etc, being unable to find a long-term rental and unwilling to commit to one anyway, in case I had to move quickly away. But I quickly started to make friends and try for some networking, attending CouchSurfer meetings, writer events, and one regular German practice meet. Getting around the Düsseldorf area with public transportation is pretty expensive, however (€2.90 per single trip, holy crap! Germany’s affordable – except for that), so I quickly got on the local eBay to find a used bicycle to buy. I found a really good deal, an almost new bike for only €75. It works like a charm and was very quickly entirely amortized.

And of course, I practiced my German all the while. I began watching the series Dark on Netflix, which is positively mind-blowing. You get literal knots in your brain, as the French saying goes, just trying to work out the story. It’s just detailed the way I like them, and psychologically and socially accurate. I definitely recommend it. Aside from that I put on some documentaries in German on YouTube, to get used to hearing and understanding as much as I could. Obviously I had to practice speaking German with people in the streets, shops, etc, and occasionally struck up a conversation with someone or other in the language. And of course there was the German practice event on Sunday evenings, where the rule was that we could only speak German, period. Though I definitely can’t pretend by any stretch of the imagination that my German has become proficient or even fluent, I can definitely say that it has improved to the point where I’ve gotten more used to speaking it and learned several words.

Also, after a few months’ respite, the Covid monster reared its ugly head again and Germany implemented what Merkel had referred to as “lockdown lite”. Any place where you were expected to sit around for a while without a mask on was closed for the whole month of November, leaving only shops, supermarkets and takeout places open. No big deal, I could handle that. We were still allowed out, there were just some more restrictions. Given that fact, when I needed to I ended up switching to an AirBNB outside town, in the suburb of Neuss about 12 km away. I figured it would be cheaper – and it was – and it wouldn’t matter as much that it wasn’t exactly central.

Same Challenges

However, though outwardly I was fine, inwardly I was – and to be honest, still am – a total mess. I’m still what I might call “proactively challenged”. And still trying to figure out what’s behind this and how to get over it – although there have been some hopeful signs lately, as you’ll soon see. My procrastination problems have hardly improved at all, which has held me back in my job search just as it has the whole time since January.

One consequence of this is that I came up on 3 months in Germany without any semblance of a stable situation and dwindling hopes that it may improve soon. Which as I ended up finding out, put me in a delicate situation: I’d gone there expecting, according to the Maastricht treaty, to be able to stay there, job or no job, as an EU citizen. As it happens that treaty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and I could have been kicked out of the country after three months, or not even allowed to register as a resident any more.

So I was facing the prospect of ending up even more homeless. Well, not completely homeless, I own a house in France and I am a French citizen, but it’s in a tiny village lost in the middle of nowhere – hardly an easy place from which to search for a job abroad. And anyone who knows me knows I don’t exactly hold my own birth country in high regard and don’t want to settle down there to live any time soon. So that would really have to be the last resort of last resorts…

However, that’s where my family made an interesting suggestion. I could just go back and settle down in Switzerland for a while, where I wouldn’t have any residence issues, be able to get a few old bête noires off my back and get back to job searching under better conditions. Indeed, my sister lives in the same town as my parents and is largely available to visit and help me move forward with my job search. She’s been coaching me a bit with this for months already, but this way she could do it in person.

New Plan

So I thought it through and made my decision. I booked a trip back from Düsseldorf, planning to have to change trains only once with a bike AND a suitcase in tow. But that day turned out a lot more complicated than it need have been because of the fact that the German railway service Deutsche Bahn seems to have been taking lessons in incompetence from France’s disastrous SNCF. Indeed, when all was said and done, I ended up having to change trains five times… FIVE TIMES! With a bike and a suitcase!

Anyway, I’m back in Switzerland now, settling in little by little, a bit limited by the new lockdown. Indeed, the canton I live in (Vaud) has much the same rules in place as Germany at the moment and until the 10th of December normally. But hey, I’m not complaining, things are still going OK. I’m actually starting to discover a few more things about myself, what with conversations with my parents and sister encouraging a bit more introspection. And I believe these realizations are helping me make slow progress on getting out of the funk I’ve been in for the past year or so.

I’ll be here in Switzerland for the foreseeable future, trying to find job leads both here and in Germany. Who knows? I might return north across the border in only a couple of months’ time. Or I might stick around here. The thing about my new situation is that it’s kind of just the right time to consider other options as well.

For example, at first I was reluctant to go back to school to get another degree in order to change careers, what with my shifting interests turning more to teaching than anything else these days. But now I’m starting to actually consider it. After all, both my parents did, back in the 80s and 90s, and both my sisters did too. And I myself am the first to say that I believe the whole notion from twenty years ago that once you’re done with school and college, that’s it, you’re all set for life is completely absurd. So now I’m looking into both jobs and study programs.

NaNoWriMo & Lessons Learned

Third Time’s the Charm

In other news, I tried NaNoWriMo for the third time. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s an informal challenge among writers to write 50,000 words toward a novel project in the 30 days of the month of November. The challenge runs every year, and participants cheer each other on, report their word counts and successes, and strive to reach the magic number by the time December rolls in. For the more mathematically challenged among you, 50,000 words in 30 days amounts to 1,667 words a day minimum. That’s a little over 3 pages typed up the way I usually do it, or up to 9 pages if you’re writing by hand with pen and paper.

Anyway, the first time I tried to participate was three years ago. Back then I was working on my still-stalled novel project, still tentatively titled “Mirror Mirror”. And I was motivated at the beginning. However, I spent the first half of that November on vacation in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, and with all the amazing tourism to be done, I quickly gave up keeping the rhythm, and decided to wait until I was back and do double time for the second half of the month to try to achieve it. As you might have guessed already, I didn’t manage to get back to writing after I got back.

The second time was last year, working on my next short story collection – tentatively titled something like “The Messed-up Heads On Our Shoulders” and aiming to illustrate through those stories certain cognitive biases we easily fall victim to in our day-to-day lives. I was much more consistent with this project, but… not up to par. I kept underperforming for the first three weeks, always promising myself I would do double time again to finish, but eventually gave up and never even finished updating my words.

This year I tried NaNoWriMo for the third time, working on my worldbuilding guide project – tentatively titled Magrathea Guide to Realistic Worldbuilding for Writers. I had an advantage with this project: I already had a much more detailed head start and a more elaborate outline than with the other projects. Also, the fact that it was non-fiction (not exactly the usual scope of NaNoWriMo participants, but it’s fine, they just consider me a “rebel”) made it that much easier. Indeed, no need to invent everything from scratch, all I needed to do was relate facts. Anyway, I had the time, the outline and the facts, so I managed to push through and complete it for the first time!

Some of you might wonder where the hell that title came from. Allow me to introduce to you the 42licious work of absurd bonkers comedy sci-fi genius known as “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. You might have heard this book mentioned somewhere in close proximity to the number 42. That’s because (spoiler alert – but hey, Google already spoils it anyway) this book features an all-knowing computer designed by a super-evolved race of beings to calculate “the answer to the ultimate question of life, the Universe and everything”. After millions of years of calculations, this computer came up (and Google does it in a fraction of a second) with the answer “42”. Now, obviously nobody knows what this answer even means. And the computer rightly points out that they never asked it the question itself, just the answer, and that if they knew the question they might make sense of the answer. But this computer wasn’t able to process the question. So it designed another computer destined to calculate the question. This new computer would turn out to be an actual planet, one we know quite well, and it turns out that this planet was actually built and designed by a firm on this planet called Magrathea. There you have it, the source of the title.

Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo

Interestingly enough, this challenge was the opportunity to learn some long-overdue life lessons in a much more practical way. Indeed, I mentioned before that I’m still a mess inside and still fighting massive procrastination issues. Well somehow I managed to get over that for this edition of NaNoWriMo, but I also really got into the spirit of the challenge for the first time, it seems. Indeed, the purpose of the challenge is NOT to get a final draft ready to publish, but instead it is merely to lay the words down, and save the editing work for later.

This whole “Done is better than perfect” thing is something I’ve been trying to deal with for a while now. I realized I usually manage to somehow get a certain tolerance for imperfection in some areas, but they always seem to be areas where the stakes aren’t that high. As soon as there is something concrete and important to be gained, somehow I guess I feel too much under pressure.

Well in the context of this challenge, once I was able to properly get into the right mindset I was able to stop editing my text live as I wrote it, say “screw it” and move on to write more. Done is better than perfect. Get the words down first, do the rest later. And indeed, there are many bits of the 50K words I wrote this November that I have second and even third thoughts about. But I’ll just have to correct it when I go through it again later.

And after all, that is the objective of the challenge to begin with: to get people writing something, anything, as long as we’re writing. To convince us to screw perfectionism and settle – for the time being – for a rough draft. This is something that’s always very hard for us writers to remind ourselves of.

Indeed my own piece is far from ready to be published, in fact it’s only halfway complete, let alone edited. And though I’m unsure about some parts, I’m happy I managed to move ahead and glad overall at the result. When I wasn’t sure of something, if I couldn’t clear it up with less than 5min of research, I just set it aside to wait to have time after the end of the challenge.

And as mentioned, this does seem to be a lesson I need to genuinely learn in order to improve myself and no longer be a hopeless mess. A lesson I’ve been starting to apply and integrate in other things I do, including my job search. I’m working toward getting the applications written at least, not perfect but sufficient, going through them again later if necessary, and settling for reasonable rather than aspiring to perfection.

Worldbuilding Guide

My NaNoWriMo project this year was my worldbuilding guide. The story of this guide, as I mentioned in a past post, is that I started reflecting on increasing the fantasy story in my book The Edge of Reason into its own full-fledged novel. I therefore began thinking about creating the world for the story, but came across two important observations: One, I didn’t know where to start. Two, many of the fictional maps I’d seen in various works of fiction seemed to make little to no sense to me in some aspects.

So I sat down to think about this, and put together what I believe to be the most sensible approach to worldbuilding from scratch. Pretty soon I had some ideas, a sequence that made the most sense despite the complications inherent in social behavior. The document this guide is in began as a simple plan. It just kept growing and growing as I thought up elements to put in, until I had what eventually amounted to about 5,000 words of outline over 9 pages or so by the time I began on Nov. 1st. And now it’s 91 pages long and still only half as long as it will likely be in the end.

None of it is quite ready to be posted or shared quite yet, unfortunately. And after a full month spent thinking a lot more about it than usual, I figured I should take a bit of a break from it for a few weeks, long enough to keep my writing habit but dedicate it to updating the site a bit more. But soon, probably after the holidays, I’ll be going back to it and preparing snippets for publication. So stay tuned, it’s coming!

New Challenges

As I briefly alluded to above, I decided to remain in the spirit of NaNoWriMo from now on and try to set myself the goal of writing at least 1,000 words every day toward any writing project, including this very Website. Those of you who know me know that I’m always on the lookout for writing prompts and inspiration. So by all means, though I will be attacking the backlog of prompts that I have collected over the past six months or so, feel free to suggest your own ideas and prompts for stories, commentary on the news or society, or anything else you’d like me to give a whack at! Share your ideas with me in the comments, through the contact form or through my social media accounts, whichever you prefer! I’ll gladly read and reply to all of them, and give your prompts a shot!

I’ve also decided to begin translating this Website to French, then later to Spanish. It’s still slow going for now, and in the meantime because of how WordPress works I can’t just open up the translated versions of the site yet – not until everything is translated – but stay tuned! I’m about a third of the way to being done with French. In the meantime, merci pour votre patience ¡y gracias por su paciencia!

Aside from that, what else do I have planned? Unfortunately my novel projects are still stalled. Mirror Mirror because I’m still wondering how to involve the quantum physics aspects without turning it into a friggin’ physics dissertation. Warning for History is stalled because I would first need to establish all the timelines for the story. Castles & Monsters is finished but not revised yet, because my priorities have swung to other works. We the Nutcases, my NaNo project from last year, is a little lost in the research on the cognitive biases that I want to address in the short stories. And the expansion of the story The Visions depends on me finishing my worldbuilding guide first, in order to apply the method myself.

I’m still hoping to get time in and access to a half-decent recording studio too, soon, so as to record The Edge of Reason as an audiobook. And that should be a treat, as according to what I’ve been told a few times, I have a voice for radio! I’m not quite sure how much of a compliment that is, but I’m sure you’ll agree with me it’s much better than having a face for radio.

And of course, I also intend to translate my book first to French, then probably to Spanish, and maybe, with help from my “little sister” Filipa, to Portuguese as well! Each edition will be released as it’s completed. I might organize small events for each of them, and will of course post about it here and on my social media! So stay tuned!

Anyway, that’s all from me for this time. I wish you all an excellent holiday season, a happier end to this pretty disappointing year, and an excellent start of the next decade! (Yes, I’m one of those nerds…). In the meantime, see you next week for a new post!

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