Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 14

I’m going to tell you something about myself: I like books. 

No, no, that’s not right, come one, Jonathan, no need to be coy about this. The truth is I love books, I am in love with books, at any given time I am having an affair with books, often with multiple books at once. There, I said it. 

My love affair with books started at an early age, fostered by my parents’ own love of literature, and by the time I hit highschool I had a full-blown book addiction. When I entered Year 9 (for any international readers, Australians in Year 9 are aged between 14 and 15 years old), I found myself in a homeroom without a single member of my circle of friends. To begin with, I was crushed, I felt hard done by, I felt alone. And then I remember I could borrow a friend any time I liked. 

To be clear, I am not referring to some strange and sad friend-loaning service set up at our school where for a certain price you could rent a friend, I am referring to the library and the many excellent books on its shelves that I could borrow as I pleased. 

Rather than do the thing normal kids would do when finding themselves in a classroom devoid of friends, which is to make new friends, I chose instead to invest any additional time during class outside of my scholarly pursuits to books. I kept whichever paperback I was reading at the time in my pencil case and as soon as I had finished the worksheet/equation/essay we were instructed to work on, I would collect my friend from its secret storage space and get reading. While the other kids were wasting their time with superficial things like talking and laughing and socially bonding, I would be exploring Narnia, and Midkemia, and the Drenai Empire.

For anyone who may be inclined to pity lonely little Jon, please don’t feel too bad. I did eventually lift my head out of the pages long enough to commune with my colleagues, and apparently the bookworm image was working for me as my first girlfriend was in that very class. Take that, jocks.

As a reader, I generally favour genre books. These genres have many different names — fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, speculative fiction — but I just like to think of them as books where one small facet of the impossible is made possible and then we see where the story goes from there. These stories, while removed from reality, help me make sense of reality, help me see things from a different perspective, and, when necessary, help me avoid social interaction. Triple threat. 

Given that the whole world is currently hibernating, it makes sense that a resurgence of reading will follow. Now that the coronavirus has taken away our restaurants, our movie cinemas, our pubs, and our table-tennis tournaments (I don’t know, maybe, I don’t know what you do in your spare time), all of us suddenly have a lot more time on our hands. 

If pubescent-Jon can teach us anything, it’s that the social interaction we are all currently lacking can be substituted with reading, and so with that in mind I would like to recommend some titles that have brought me joy, have made me think, have kept me turning the pages long into the night, and have kept me company through the lonely times.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The author himself has said that, when writing this book, he set out to tell a long and rambling story, and in one sense he accomplished this. The book is long and covers a lot of ground, but it is intriguing, interesting, weird, and always enchanting every step of the way. It combines a wealth of folklore and presents the gods discussed in its pages in a way that feels human and real. Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors and this is one of my favourite books. Beyond being a great writer, he also seems to be a rather great human, which makes reading his work all the more enjoyable.

American Gods

Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick Offerman
Nick Offerman is famed for his portrayal of Ron Swanson in the television show Parks and Recreation, and while there is a lot of Ron in Nick, there is also a lot more. This book, which is part autobiography and part ruminations on life and how to live a good one, is overflowing with humour and wisdom and a collection of very entertaining anecdotes. It also pairs very well with a good whiskey.

Paddle Your Own Canoe

Sourdough by Robin Sloan
This book is warmth all the way through, from the characters and their passions, to the bread that is baked, and to the ultimate conclusion. Robin Sloan writes about our world but from a perspective that is a delight to share. He finds mythic in the mundane and passion in the pedestrian. Reading his books is like having a long conversation with a good friend over a cup of tea.

Sourdough

14 by Peter Clines
This was a book that made me lie. I would lie to my employer about being sick, I would lie to my friends about being busy, and I would lie in bed (see what I did there) not sleeping, only reading. I did all this because I absolutely had to find out what was happening and what would happen next. For me, this is the ultimate page-turner and, while it made me knowingly deceive friends and family, I regret none of it.

14

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
Did you catch that it’s Neil Gaiman again? I warned you that he was one of my favourite authors. Fragile Things is a collection of his short stories and so is the perfect book if committing to a huge novel isn’t your thing. Each of the stories is seeded with an idea so unique, so interesting, and so cool that I am swamped with jealousy that I didn’t come up with it. Even in the introduction to the collection, he tells a story that is gripping and thought-provoking. In the introduction! He’s really just showing off, and damn him if it doesn’t work.

Fragile Things

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Often considered a modern masterpiece, this novel encapsulates…no, I can’t do it. I was trying to be funny, but even as a joke, I can’t endorse this book. It is trash. It is a trash book. Go read something else.

Whether you read my recommendations or not, that’s okay, but I do recommend that you at least read. While we can’t currently go out and explore our world as we would like to, books can allow us to instead go in and explore a multitude of other worlds, and by doing so, forget about our isolation for a while.

Lastly, I would like to ask a favour. If anyone has a book they love, one that has stuck in their brain and won’t get out, I would deeply appreciate it if you could recommend it to me in the comments. As a book addict, I am always on the lookout for my next hit.

And really lastly, I swear this time, if anyone would like to read a short novella that I wrote that is, hopefully, as silly and as fun as these posts, then I invite you to download a copy from the following links. I wanted to give it away for free but Amazon wouldn’t let me, so instead it is yours for only 99 cents.

Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B086L2W7D7 

Austria: https://www.amazon.de/dp/B086L2W7D7

United Kingdom: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B086L2W7D7

United States: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B086L2W7D7

 

On Monday: The new normal.

DIGITAL MEDIA SAID YES

Once again I am reaching out after a period of long silence, and once again I can only plead sheer exhaustion and lack of available time as my excuse. My ten day working week has continued, sometimes stretching out to a fourteen day working week, and once (and only once as I learnt it was a very bad idea) into a twenty-one day working week.

But, ladies and gentleman, I am now an engaged man, and have a wedding to pay for.

That is correct, since we spoke (or since last I wrote and you read) I have procured myself a fiancé. I dropped to one knee, offered up a ring, and she deemed my offering acceptable and agreed to sticking around for the rest of my life. I am now a very happy man.

But that is a whole other blog. Or, in reality, a whole other novel. Despite neglecting this blog and you dear readers like kids now neglect the fidget-spinners they desperately needed six months ago, I have not been idle. In fact, I wrote a book. It was with this (along with said ring) that secured me a future wife.

The book detailed the rather exotic and epic journey my relationship with Alex has been on over the past four and a half years, beginning in Vietnam, over to Austria, interweaving through various European countries, to Australia and the hoard of family and friends Alex met, and finishing up in Greece, where I read Alex the last page of the story, finishing with the line, “Alexandra, will you marry me?” whereupon she said yes.

She didn’t really have a choice, I’d written her a book after all. (Note to any prospective proposers: Trap your partner with an act so kind they’d look terrible to refuse. Guaranteed future happiness).

Cover V2

(Book Cover: Designed by yours truly)

In addition to that book, I’ve also written a novella, which has gone through its alpha reader, Damian, and beta readers, Holly, Matt, and Alex, and is now almost ready for the public. I’m hoping to submit it to a publisher in the long-term, but more on that when it eventuates.

Because now we’ve reached the crux of this blog, and the reason I have revived, yet again, this faithful dog of a blog: I’ve also written another article. I metaphorically got down on one knee to the American Journal of Nursing and offering up a ring of my words, and they said yes. The article was published yesterday, not in their physical magazine as with my previous articles, but on their blog, which can be found here for your reading pleasure: https://ajnoffthecharts.com/unusual-privilege-patients-memorable-grace/

Thanks to all for reading, for also accepting my ring of words, you’re all fiancés to me. But just so we’re all clear, Alex is the actual fiance. That could have gotten messy.

More (hopefully) soon.

EXTRACTION

For those regular readers of my site, you may have noticed my posts have been a bit more sporadic of late. Some of you have been vocal in this, curious as to what I’ve been working on. Some have physically abused me, demanding more  and more words to satisfy them.

As I appreciate this feedback and unique show of support, I thought I’d placate these avid fans by assuring you all that more words are being typed every day, they’re just being done in the form of a novel. Two novels, in fact.

As I work full-time as a district nurse (have I mentioned that in the past?), it’s usually in my half-hour lunch break that I sit down and tap out the words bottled inside my head. Unfortunately, this being only a limited slice of time, and given that by the end of the working day I’m mostly used up and wrung out to the point that just preparing a healthy dinner is an accomplishment worthy of the highest praise, it makes writing anything of length a timely process.

But I appreciate every bit of encouragement I get from readers, so to reward your patience I thought I’d offer an extract from one of my novels-in-progress, I’ll Take it From Here. It’s the opening piece of the novel so you can’t get lost.

It can be found in the Writing link on this site, or simply by clicking here.

STARTING SOMETHING

I started writing a novel today.

It’s a strange thing, starting something. I always seem to have a nervous energy when I begin a project, and that energy is always somewhat driven by fear. Fear of failing. Fear of it not being as good as I can picture it. Fear that this time when I put pen to paper I’ll find my ability is gone, that the spark of creativity in me has fizzled out and I’m boring again. It’s irrational, but I’ve found a way to overcome it.

Start anyway.

This seems to be the hardest part. That first burst of motivation and inspiration. Until that initial moment of creation, my idea is perfect. It’s in the starting that I open the door to faults and flaws, that I can introduce my imperfect technique and see my ideal concept become something common. Of course the irony is that a concept is nothing, and so much lesser than a flawed something.

A lesson that has recently crystallised for me is one of the path to success. My sister once showed me a diagram that displayed the two perceived paths to success. On the left was a road that diverged to two outcomes: Succeed or Fail. This is the commonly believed path to success. Win or lose. To the right was an image of a road which zigzagged, and at each bend was a signpost which read “fail.” But at the end of the road was a trophy which read “succeed.” The actual path to success.

The problem with the former view is you only get one chance; you win or you lose. There’s no room for error in this path to success, and this makes starting something a nerve-racking voyage to make. With this concept in your head you launch yourself into the unknown and are snatched down the first time you trip up. Done. You failed. Thanks for playing.
This daunting potential for failure can be enough to stop someone from even starting. Much safer to avoid the risk and stay off the path all together.

Luckily this view of success is entirely wrong.

It’s the latter that encapsulates any experience of success I’ve ever had. This truth became starkly apparent when I first attempted to crochet a beanie. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that after envying a beanie my cousin owned I set out to duplicate the garment. Since then I’ve made about ten beanies and it’s gotten to a point where a person can’t visit my house without leaving with crocheted wool draped over their head. This end result shows I succeeded in my goal. But that was the end result; the path to that point was a bloody mess.

To begin my beanie I first had to master the initial ring of stitches. It’s called the magic circle. The magic of this circle proved to be its ability to provoke a string of curses from a man who normally remains quite calm. The wool slipped from my fingers, the hook refused to weave through the gaps I wanted it to, and the stitches were either too loose or so small that no grown man’s fingers could hope to navigate them. After hours of work, after a conglomeration of failures, I had a rather rough, but technically correct, magic circle.

I then laboured in mastering the following rings of stitches. After hours of studying the YouTube tutorial I was watching, stopping, rewinding, rewatching, and stopping, I had added a further six rows to my creation. I was feeling good, I was about halfway through, and the tangle of stitches was starting to resemble a beanie.

But as I bent to watch my online teacher begin the next ring I noticed something. Her needle was slipping through two loops each time she made a stitch whereas mine was only slipping through one. I looked back at my work and immediately saw the neglected loop I had been failing to hook with each stitch. While my beanie still held together, the missing loop meant that it wouldn’t be as strong as it should be and prone to stretch. I was doing it wrong. I would have to start again.

It should have been demoralising to have to pull apart the hours of hard work I had spent sweating over wool and crochet needle, but in all honesty it was a relief. I didn’t trust my new skills enough to presume I had been proceeding errorless, and I now felt I had caught my error. I may have been back to nothing more than a tangle of wool and the prospect of reattempting the magic circle, but I had learnt from my mistakes, which meant this time I would do it right.

And this is the lesson of the latter: the path to success is littered with failure. But each failure isn’t a slipping down a snake back to the start, it’s a step forward with new knowledge earned from that failure. Each mistake I made was a lesson in how not to do it, meaning all other attempts were done with a higher ratio of success.

With this in mind, starting something is a much easier journey to make. I may trip the minute I step onto the path, but each trip is something I can improve on, and something that is now behind me.

So today I started my novel. I did it with the belief that all errors I made could only, inevitably, make it better.

For those of you playing at home, the first word of my novel is “The.” An auspicious start in its vast scope for potential words to follow.

And it can only get better from here.