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Hello, my name is Sandy.

The psychological toll of book club

Come July, I have a book club thing with a handful of mates. I'm super excited for it, even though I generally don't do book clubs. Or movie clubs. I don't do monthly get-togethers either; seasonal kibbutzes, other regular things like that.

There's something about monthly whatever clubs that starts to feel old very quickly. At least for me. Even in that first month, with the excitement of doing something new, I still get the sense of staring down a long sentence without parole.

Of course, in reality, parole happens. People take breaks, wane in enthusiasm, fade into the background. You're never truly locked into a book club.

But I don't like dithering on commitments. It doesn't feel good. If I accept an invitation to book club, I want to be sincere about the implicit promise to be there for someone in that bookish way. And I can't. I'm picky about the media I consume, I don't want to be told what book to read next.

It's not just that, though. I get the same feeling with monthly, or weekly, dinners or lunches or movies or picnics or catchups or so-and-sos. Most of the time, I want play-dates, not play-marriages. So as soon as I hear there's a time-based ball to chain myself to, I'm out.

Perhaps it's an underlying fear of commitment fuelling my aversion. Or what if I've cultivated a pattern of avoidance through type-A perfectionistic tendencies bordering on delusions of grandeur? That's getting heavy for a blog post on book clubs, isn't it.

To date, the only thing I've given myself to with regularity is indoor football. Christians have church, geeks have conventions, I have weekend team sport. I adore the psychological toll here. But then, maybe deep down it's because I know I'm on a time limit. That there's three decades at best left in my footballing body, barring some superb science or fitness secret that could make me match-fit until I die. I stare down this sentence of week after week, and wish it were several lifetimes long.

Well then. I'm trying something different with this book club by removing the regularity. None of us are trying to read more, just have a bit of fun. If anything, this affair is a big ask because we're all avid readers taking precious time out of our regular schedule to do this together. So, as the organiser, I want to respect that by eliminating the routine, the locked-in feeling.

Just one 398-page dalliance in July because we want to. No strings attached. They don't have to call the next day or month. We're ships, passing bookishly in the night.

Some good books

I am loving the Goodreads Reading Challenge. At the start of the year, you set a target number of books, then spend the rest of the year reading.

I don't like the idea of needing formal challenge to get shit done, but I have to admit - it's working. A couple years ago, I went through a phase of not reading much at all. I grew up a bookworm, and don't know why I stopped. No time, maybe. Life distractions.

But then I signed up for the challenge and my competitive drive awakened. It rekindled my love for books and stories. I felt free again to be led down the garden path by authors both great and ordinary.

From this, I've learned reading is just as much as habit as it is a passion. Sometimes all you need is an obsessive jumpstart to get in the game. Find some superb books and don't feel silly or guilty for enjoying them.

I'd like to share a few of the bloody awesome books I've read over the last few years. I'm not a book hipster - most of these are old hat. But they're nice old hats I totally recommend. :)

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey. I was hesitant at first because it's a long book. At 561 pages, it's almost double what I'd pick up without hesitation. But man, I'm glad I took the plunge. This book was perfection. The language, the symbolism, the layers - poetic. Lovely, lovely sci-fi and I'm so excited about the TV series.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. If I had to sum this book up in one word, it would be: breathtaking. The world is magnificent and the pace full-on. There's naïveté in the science, which only adds to the charm. Just thinking about it makes me want to read it again.

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. As the second book in the Ender series, this won't make much sense unless you've read Ender's Game, which is also a fantastic book (I cried every couple of chapters). Be warned, though, it's quite different to Ender's Game. There are no space battles, for one. It's more like a murder mystery that also poses philosophical and ethical questions. A thoughtful, introspective read.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. There are remarkable differences between this book and the Blade Runner film. The world here is far more confronting and bleak. The language and pathos drew me in, and I felt more sympathy for the Deckard of the book. If you liked the movie and don't mind slightly depressing sci-fi, add this one to your reading list.

The Forest by Justin Groot

The Forest by Justin Groot. I picked this up on recommendation from a friend who followed each chapter as it came out on reddit. The storytelling is so good, it more than makes up for the blue-balls story. I reserve judgement on this front, though. The author is supposedly writing a sequel, which should hopefully answer some of the questions left open.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir. A scientific thought experiment adventure on Mars. I was hooked. This was one of those books that kept me up way past my bedtime cos I just couldn't put it down. The movie was good too, but don't let the Hollywood-ness of it deter you from giving this book a chance. I'd also like to applaud the author for nailing the nerd banter. Reading it grated on me just as much as hearing it in real life - I mean that in a good way!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Super nostalgia romp. I feel like this novel was written for older gamers like me. After reading, I promptly got myself a pair of Chucks. :) The language style isn't my favourite, but the story was just fun. Read this book for fun. Enjoy it. Reminisce about the 80s; the innocence and simplicity of it all.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan. This was a surprise. I thought I was in for something sciencey and robotic, but it turned out to be an intense graphic noir type story. Super sexy and thrilling with visceral descriptions of things. Brooding detective, violence, rich assholes, grimey underbelly, hotness and heaviness that are totally decent plot elements - no regrets, really. :3

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. OK, let's not sci-fi all the things. This is a very down-to-earth, human story about a fisherman. You're right, it doesn't sound very interesting, but the storytelling is compelling, and ahh, what can I say. I bawled my eyes out at the end. Such a simple story, but it touched something deep in me. We are all the old man; we are all alone in our own seas.

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. I couldn't go without mentioning this one. I love a good jaunt through ancient times, and identified quite strongly with Sophie's at-times indignant cogitation of philosophy and her life. It's a nice little read if you enjoy philosophy and history and allegory.

I'm currently ahead of schedule for my 20 book target this year. Right now, I'm reading A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony. Everyone's warned me it will be terrible, and so far it already kind of is, but I don't care. I'm reading it to get in the right headspace for Companions of Xanth because puns are awesome and I've already decided this thing is happening, so hush!

With that, I leave you. I have to go read this book that isn't hilariously punny yet. Good night!

What I've been up to lately

It has barely been two months, but offices and cubicles feel so foreign already. This morning, I got out of bed at 9. Is this the slippery slope to becoming nocturnal again? I hope not. I like getting up early nowadays. But for the last few nights - tsk, tsk - I've stayed up past midnight, reading.

Reading. This is now essential to my professional development. Even fun reading has become a matter of study. Heaps of things are now a matter of study. I may as well tell people I'm a full-time student with heaps of prac assignments.

So here's what's been going on:

Gardenhand - After spending 2 years bumbling over how to do this, it's finally live: my gardening blog. Not much to look at now, but I have a pile of notes and drafts waiting to be written properly - answers to questions people have asked me about setting up and maintaining their gardens, little how-to's, and tips for outdoor and indoor planting.

Office Plants - Speaking of indoor planting, this project has also been keeping me busy and out of trouble. Friends setting up small businesses and home offices have asked about putting greenery in drab indoor spaces. So I'm building this site as a resource for busy office people, and as an excuse to study and grow more plants. I am loving my maidenhair fern, which I bought after writing the plant profile.

hand-lettered poster, work in progress

A hand-lettered poster - Some days, I wake up full of self-doubt. My Inner Critic suggests I'm delusional for thinking my recent life changes could ever work. Standing next to my Inner Critic, though, is an odd pair of characters. I can't find a reference to them on wiki, but I call them my Inner Drill Sergeant and Inner Cheerleader. I'm not crazy, I promise. These guys only live in my head. I know they're not real. :) Sarge is all brass tacks. He reminds me that I don't get to eat if I don't get shit done. Cheerleader is sweeter. She hangs onto positive, motivational quotes for the days I need them. Anyway, this work-in-progress poster is of something she's told me often since I started freelancing.

Inktober (day 4) - I started playing Inktober, thinking it would be a breeze after 100 teacups, but... nope. I got six days in, which you can see on my insta. It was fun, but some days, I didn't feel like drawing. I wanted to read about plants, fuss over my new tillandsia, do art that didn't involve ink. Oh well, there's always next year. I do want to finish the story of this boy and his sea adventure. Maybe I can do Inkvember and Inkcember.

Writing, and editing. I can now say I've gone through the process of pitching, writing, revising, and selling a story. Yay, achievement unlocked! More on that later, when I get a copy of the newsletter running the article. I also hit a small milestone last week in writing an article over 2000 words. I didn't think I'd ever have the patience for that, but well - it's done and I feel ever so slightly more capable.

Reading. The damn book that's been keeping me up was "Xenocide" by Orson Scott Card. So good. I thought it would be an extension of a town's relationship with the native population, but it turned into this massive question of philosophy and ethics. I love story books that give you things to bring back to real life. I've just finished reading "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" by Justin Cawthorne. It's a fast read, and gave me the creeps, like a good horror story should. It also kept me up late. I'm now confident I'll blitz my 20 book pledge.

Ned's Pup - A fundraiser for an extended family member with autism. Ned's a good kid. :) It was nice to use my website-making skills to help out. The family are running a couple of events to help raise the money - small charity dinners, a quiz night, stuff like that. We're sitting on $2100 at the moment, so there's a long, long way to go.

And finally, Planetbase - It's like Dwarf Fortress, but in space. I love base builder and resource management games. And I love space. After spending the day super focused on tilling the career fields, it's nice to go colonise a planet. Mm, come on, little space men and women. Build me a bio-dome. ^____^

Now, how bout you? What have you been up to?

A sleepy day for cats

a cat, sleeping

It is a sleepy day for cats. And also for not-cats. Rain has been bucketing down for hours... I should enjoy this free garden water while it lasts, since I will have to do it all myself come summer.

Dora decided it was nap time and kicked me out of my chair. So here I am, sitting on the floor, writing to you.

my tea and book on a high-pile rug

My 20 book pledge is going slowly, but I have passed the halfway mark - hooray! The fan art, however, is less successful. Some books just haven't inspired me to draw. Altered Carbon, for example, was a great read, but once it was over, I was ready to move on. Pretty much every other book since then has inspired me to do something other than drawing.

Does this mean I don't get to call myself an artist after all, because my default medium isn't art? On that note, the distinction between job titles and identity will only get more confusing, as things are in flux here again. I will write about it another day, though, because now I want to tell you about Mona's visit to the dentist.

another sleeping cat

Yeah, you heard me. We took the cat to the dentist.

We picked up this little darling at the Cat Haven four years ago, after losing a cat of a similar breed to a car accident. Thinking she would be just as lovely as he was, we adopted her and expected she would slot right into her new life off the streets. We were so wrong.

She is a noisy, crochety old battle-axe who sounds angry when she's happy, and really pissed when she's somewhat annoyed. She loves a pat, but freaks when you go to pat her; don't even try giving her a butt scratch with your foot. That's just her way. I think she was accustomed to a more violent or accident-prone lifestyle.

So over the years, we thought nothing of her crankiness, and slowly got her accustomed to the affections of this household. She's always had the worst breath, but the Haven nicknamed her "Stinkerbell", so we thought that was also just her way.

Recently, we saw an ad for pet dental appointments, and decided to take her in, just to check. The vet confirmed her teeth and gums were in good condition, but WHAT... there were huge things around them. They looked like lumpy extra teeth!!

"This is a cat who doesn't chew enough," said the vet. Mona had huge build-ups of dental scale, likely from too much wet food for the amount of dry food she eats. So, we got her new dental biscuits and a revised feeding plan... but not before a rather traumatic affair.

She got used to being restrained, got used to having her mouth held open, but you could tell de-scaling was the absolute worst. The only time you hear her make that sound is when a computer chair runs over her tail.

However, once it was over, she seemed uncharacteristically chill. In a better mood than we've ever seen her. Her teeth must have been giving her some real trouble if she's not holding a grudge against us for the rest of the week.

So, there it is. If your cat is a moody cow with breath that could fell a tree, get her teeth checked.

Sketch: Buggy On Mars (pastel)

fan art for The Martian: Watney's rover driving through dust

Last month, I read The Martian by Andy Weir. It's a story about a botanist who gets stranded on Mars when a mission abort goes awry. I loved this book. Couldn't put it down, and there was so much to take in each time. Weir nails the nerd banter; I felt right at home.

So here is my fanart. I wanted to draw the protagonist's vehicle driving through dust, so decided to learn how to use pastels. Which is why I'm a month late with this drawing.

It's a bit weak - in hindsight, I should have gone harder with the colours, or maybe used different coloured paper - one that doesn't dull the orange hues so much. But oh well. I'm just glad it's over now so I can try drawing things that are not clouds.

For anyone interested, I made a board of Mars pastel cloud references.

Next fanart will be for Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan. Might go back to pencil and paper for this one, so I don't fall behind again. ^_^;

Sketch: Sophie and the rabbit

fan art for Sophie's World: Sophie sitting on a giant rabbit

I'm reading Sophie's World at the moment, by Jostein Gaarder. It's a story of a 14 year old girl who begins a mysterious correspondence course in philosophy. It tickles my interests, and I wish I'd found this book as a teenager. It would have given me more confidence seeing thoughts through and discussing them with people.

Last month, I learned about the 50 book pledge. This is interesting cos when you pledge to do something, you usually get some kind of adventure out of it, and I want to have reading adventures again. Only, I'm not reading 50 books over one year cos I'm slow and don't want to spend all my free time inside a book.

Instead, I'll read 20 books. This seems do-able. And because I'm reading more e-books now instead of paper books, I'll celebrate with fanart sketches rather than photos of book covers.

So here is a roughly drawn, no-face Sophie Amundsen sitting atop the philosophical rabbit.

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