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How Do They Do It?

I really don't know how they do it.

I have always wondered how people who have jobs where their clients are going through something that is either very emotional, life-changing, or something they may just do once and therefore have very little experience of, cope. On this widely varying list I include professions like funeral directors, anyone involved in the wedding industry, headhunters, doctors, nurses, vets, paramedics, divorce lawyers, psychologists, police offers (including one detective I know) and social workers.

I know it's not exactly of the same magnitude, but now I will add to the list kitchen designers, builders and even Ray from the tile shop. (It's at least equivalent to anyone in the wedding industry.)

The thing is, in any of these professions, you have to deal with people who may be generally pretty sane, but who are clearly not their normal selves because they are really inexperienced in dealing with whatever it is they are dealing with right now. And can also be very emotional.

In my job, I deal with people who have typically been in the same industry for years. And for everyone in that industry, it's a job. It's not life or death (I don't think?), or even that personal. In many ways I like the fact that my day job is an escape for whatever else is going on in my life. Even though I truly love the functionality of spreadsheets, I can't get that emotional about them.

So hats off to people who do these kinds of jobs. Especially my kitchen designer who had to deal with the Hub hitting reply all and including her on an email to me that read: "Can't take this anymore..."

It could have been worse. At least he was replying to a comment I had made in the great debate over drawer handles, and not something coming from them.

Our extension work started June 19th and I've been determined not to complain about it, as I am lucky and grateful we can improve our house. And for the fact that we have a house at all. But I am well aware that I am acting temporarily insane at times. I've written a few tersely worded emails about ovens, said some tiles looked "cheap" in disgust, and didn't cope well with working from home this week when I had to make coffee and eat lunch in the bedroom.

I've been thinking about these professionals with awe a lot recently as I continue to exhibit unusual behavior. I really don't know how they do it. (If you do one of these jobs, maybe you can comment and let me know how you cope.)

Photo credit: Leonard J Matthews high voltage via photopin (license)

Serves You Right

For some time now the Hub has been telling me that I am becoming more and more English culturally. But it's hard to know. These changes happen so slowly sometimes. When you grow up somewhere you often really identify strongly with the beliefs and attitudes of that culture. And I think (and hope) that the American tenaciousness and optimism will never leave me.

But the other day I had a moment when I thought: I cannot believe I just did that. I cannot believe that I have done such an about face.

To understand what happened you need to know the background.

During my first year here (in 2002), the World Cup was on. And it was happening in Japan and South Korea so there were matches on during the day U.K. time. My editor and I were out in the City at meetings, discussing derivatives, because that was the very fun subject I covered at the time. And after one meeting we popped into a pub to watch some football and eat lunch.

We ordered our lunch and waited. And waited. I guess it was really busy. It was the World Cup after all.

There were two women sitting near us, who had come in after us, and I noticed that they surprisingly got served their food before us. As I watched them -- because I was very hungry -- I noticed they were looking at their plates in a sort of puzzled manner. But they picked up their forks and started eating anyway.

I waved the waiter over, because of course I had an inkling that they had been served our food. After all, it was what we had ordered. There was a kerfuffle and the waiter realized his mistake. I cannot actually remember how it all got sorted out, but it did, and eventually we got our lunch.

But I was enraged. I ranted and raved at my editor. How could someone just eat food that wasn't theirs? How would you not say anything if you had been served something you hadn't ordered?

Well. The other day I was having lunch with an old friend. I ordered a tartine with parma ham and mozarella. And then I changed my mind. I told the waitress, hang on, actually I wanted the smoked chicken one instead. She wrote it down and off she went, as we went back to catching up and having a great chat.

When our food arrived the waitress served me a tartine with parma ham and mozarella. I looked at it and shrugged. It looked good anyway. And I didn't feel like it was nice to point out her mistake. It was certainly not going to make any real difference to me what I ate that day.

When we had finished our meal, the waitress came over and started apologizing profusely. She had realized her mistake and was very worried. I told her it was not a big deal, that my lunch was delicious and joked that maybe that was what I really wanted all along anyway. And then when she was gone I told my friend the story I have just told you.

English people eat what they are served. Happily. It's a good way to live, I think. I guess if you have a food allergy it's a different case. Or if the mistake had involved seafood it would have been a different story (I hate fish & seafood). But it didn't. She gave us a 10% discount, which was nice, but really I didn't care. I was just happy I didn't ruin her day by getting her in trouble in some way for a mistake that anyone could have made.

It's just funny how much people really can change.

Photo credit: frederic.gombert Holidays ambiance via photopin (license)

The Only Rule

I can almost see the finish line. I think I'm less than two chapters away from finishing the initial draft of my first complete novel. I did write a novel when I was about ten, but some of my friends contributed chapters, so I suppose that doesn't count. And believe me, no one wants to read that novel.

Like many other aspiring writers I know, the daily writing habit has long eluded me. It's freakin' hard. But I knew I had to get there in the end, otherwise books would not happen. I'm certainly not perfect yet, and it's not happening every single day, but I am getting much, much closer.

What's made the difference?

I implemented a rule. Everyday I have to sit down for 30 minutes at my little writing desk in the study (this happens at 10 p.m. on weeknights and usually at some point in the morning on the weekends). I don't have to write, but I have to sit there, and I'm not allowed to do anything else. I can read what I've written already or just think about the story, but that's it.

Luckily, because I'm there, words often do end up on the page. Maybe not a lot, but sometimes a couple hundred. Over the days, those word counts really do add up.

And another benefit: writing everyday keeps me in the story. When I used to only write at weekends it took so long to get back into it. Now I feel much more like I'm living and breathing the narrative.

This strategy has helped me with writing, but I think people can use it for anything really. One of my friends is taking weekly French lessons (via Skype) and is loving it. But she wanted to listen to French radio daily to help with her listening comprehension. She said it was hard to get herself to do it so regularly -- even though once she started listening, she enjoyed it. I suggested that she use a similar method, but set the bar even lower. She just had to listen for one or two minutes -- all she really had to do was put her headphones in and tune in on her phone.

She tried it and told me that it was working: once she started, she usually ended up listening for the 15 minutes that was her goal.

I'm not sure where this resistance to starting things comes from, but it's amazing how easy it can also be to trick ourselves. Lucky I'm so dim witted that I'll sit down at my writing desk even when I don't want to write.

Another key part of this routine for me was letting the Hub know this had to happen and asking him to remind me it was time to write. (According to Gretchen Rubin's habit framework, I am an obliger, which means I need external accountability.) The Hub now knows that at 10 p.m. I can't watch just-one-more episode of whatever series we're bingeing on. Even when I'm tempted to skip, his asking "Aren't you writing tonight?" is often that kick I need to remember that it's the rule. And sometimes, as an added bonus, I even get out of doing the washing-up (dishes) or taking the rubbish (garbage) out. Being the tortured artist in the relationship at the moment certainly has its benefits.

Photo credit: Alicia Chenaux - Ch'Know Blogs Writer's Block via photopin (license)

There's A Digger In The Garden

We are only two weeks into the kitchen project and I've already come home to find a digger in the garden. Translation for my American readers? A backhoe in the back yard. 

I have been thinking about all of you and have a lot of blog posts in my head to be written. I couldn't believe it when I saw that my last post was in May! 

But you see, there's a digger in the garden. It's all very distracting. Granted, we're not project-managing this kitchen extension and renovation ourselves, but still, there are so many decisions to be made, and one hot Sunday we had to move absolutely everything out of our kitchen to make way for the demolition. In a place where the thermometer rarely gets much above the low 70s Fahrenheit in the summer, of course we would have to have a heatwave the week the works were scheduled to begin. 

I'm not complaining, just explaining, that I would rather be writing, but at the moment I am having ridiculous conversations about how I feel about extraction. Apparently there are two types of extraction people: those who open a door or window when they burn some food and those who feel very strongly about extraction and must have the best system possible to remove any trace of odor, grease or smoke. Since the question baffled me to begin with, I suppose I'm in the former camp. 

This is turning into quite the education. I'm also learning that when I speak to my parents about the kitchen plans they don't know what I'm talking about when I say hob, or cooker, or even extractor. Sometimes I really do forget that I speak another language now

If you're curious about our project, you can always follow along with the link to my photo album of before, during and after (although you'll have to wait until at least October for the "after" pictures). 

And now that the workmen have set up a temporary kitchen (including a real sink!) which is now complete with the portable hob my friend lent us yesterday, I'm hoping to resume the regular blog schedule again.  

As soon as I get over the fact that there's a digger in the garden...
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