Study guide writing: the highs and lows of the Perfect Job (For Me)

On the surface of it, I have the ideal job situation.

For the past year and a half I’ve been writing literary study guides for an online publication company. What this involves is being assigned with a work of fiction, and basically writing about it from every conceivable angle. I have to write summaries and accompanying analyses, and outline themes, symbols, characters, etc, and provide a completely comprehensive guide to the book in question. It’s about as involved as one can get with a single piece of literature, I’m guessing, outside of writing a dedicated postgraduate thesis on it, so it certainly helps me to keep my skills fresh in that area. I send it in once it’s done, I get paid, then I can choose another book to work on.

This position ticks a lot of boxes for me, at least in theory – it’s the *only* regular paying job I’ve had basically ever, let alone since graduation, and I was incredibly lucky to encounter the ad, and be almost immediately accepted for it in the first place. I’ve struggled enough with finding suitable employment my entire adult life to know never to take such a stroke of luck lightly, so I’ve always worked as hard and as well on each guide as possible. Also, as an autistic* person, the absence of pressure to constantly interact socially on the job, and general office politics, is a welcome advantage. It’s done entirely remotely, meaning that I don’t run the risk of accidentally committing a social faux pas while getting the work done. This combination of advantages is still, in my experience, exceedingly rare in the job market, unless you happen to know someone personally who can fix you up with your ideal role.

The thing is though, the “autism thing” has also proved to be, in itself, a major drawback in certain aspects of the job. My strengths lie in analysis and comparison, and most definitely not, as I’ve learned over time on the job, in summarising. Each guide requires a chapter by chapter breakdown of everything which has happened, but at least for me, if this is a work of fiction – with all the nuances and tangents and inner narratives of the main characters, which often play out in a non-linear fashion – this is where I really begin to encounter my limitations. My brain is very poor at condensing and selecting large amounts of narrative detail and being responsible for judging what is relevant for the summary, because essentially I see *everything* as being relevant in some sense. After all, why else would such detail even be in the book in the first place? At least goes my thinking…

I can do almost everything else in the guide far more easily in comparison – in perhaps a deviation from the autism stereotype, I’m actually quite good at understanding and employing metaphor, analogy, subtext, all the interesting and sometimes confusing stuff of which literature is often comprised. I have the thick backlog of marked university essays to prove it – your 100% literal autistic stereotype wouldn’t even be capable of such a thing. Also, sometimes rather sneakily, I can slip in some insights of my own here and there. I’ve been known to draw particular attention to parts of a book where a character expresses vegan-friendly sentiments, for example. The rules don’t say you can’t, as long as you adhere to the guidelines, so 😉

But anyway. The past year and a half or so has been a unique opportunity, for me, to experience how my particular “wiring” can work both for and against me all at once. An internal battle rages every time I accept a new assignment, knowing that I will both love and hate the mission I am about to embark upon. Due to various reasons, I’ve not been able to assume as much work as I would have liked, or as I would even have expected in the beginning. I can be an infuriatingly slow worker when I have even one other preoccupation going on. A couple of health problems, and a general deficit in concentration, have slowed me right down, but I merely spaced out the projects I did, rather than risk taking on too much work and then risking disappointing my hard-won employer by failing to turn in on time. Lots of employers, despite growing “awareness” campaigns going on at the moment, simply do not or cannot fully grasp the complications of both the difficulties and the advantages of trying to shoe-horn a neurodiverse brain into working efficiently in a world where this type of brain is still in the vast minority. I fear coming across as incompetent, unintelligent, unmotivated or otherwise incapable of doing the job, which in fact I can do if the conditions are just right, or at least just right for me.

The solution I’d propose, if it were up to me, would be to work on everything except for the summaries, with someone more suited to the type of thinking that requires chipping in. Another solution, or at least a move towards branching out into other areas I might excel in, would be to assume more in the way of editing work, but given that jobs full stop are hard to come by, let alone ones you are actually qualified for and are related to your field of interest, I am certainly not about to quit completely anytime soon, as long as I am capable of reading and writing in a way which is useful and comprehensible to whoever might be using the study guide, when the product is complete.

I shall, upon completion of the most recent assignment, make another move towards other areas of freelance writing, building upon experience gained, and as a sort of refresher from the near-academia level of study required for the study guide writing, but first I think I will need another spot of recovery time.

*Using the clinical term for the time being, stay tuned for a post coming soon about my relationship to the name/label/diagnosis. It’s complicated so really needs a separate clarification.

The weird world of executive dysfunction

Articles like this one have started to click with me in a way that few others do. It has inspired me to do something of a stream-of-consciousness-style ramble on the issue of executive function. Or executive dysfunction.
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I’ve written about my tendency to procrastinate in at least a couple of my blog posts, which from a cursory glance in the wider “blogosphere”, seems to be a trait which is almost fashionable to “fess up to” these days. A specific level of hipster-ironic “I so can’t even right now (but actually I can and in fact have proven that I can merely by writing this article to my huge social media fanbase AND have been paid with my very own by-line on a trendy website like Buzzfeed about how much I like tattoos and drinking tea (and drinking the latest speciality locally grown tattooed tea brewed in a shed in the back garden)…” is almost, in my view, the thing to humble-brag about and come off as quirky, and even endearing.
Far be it from me to remotely judge the capabilities and difficulties of someone else upon the basis of an online article, but sometimes I can’t help wondering how much of it is mere self-depreciation, or even just the glorification of the “meh” attitude to life. The “too cool to care, or at least appear to” attitude which can be found in ample supply in digital publications like Vice. I realise I might be encroaching upon hypocritical territory here  -I am after all writing a blog post about essentially the same phenomenon – but when you “honestly can’t even and I’ve no idea why even after all this time and it’s not getting any easier as time goes on and it’s driving me slowly but surely insane” then… well, that can be harder to articulate, and to differentiate from the multiple claims of “I can’t even” which seem to be so popular now.
 296ed64a53c8c78ee598a892ca0a8140(Image courtesy of pinterest.net – well what do you know, there is such a thing as tattooed tea. Or at least tattoos of tea.)
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It’s ridiculous how long it’s taken me to realise just how big a problem this has been for me throughout life. Had I known that this was a DEFINING characteristic of autism, rather than merely written off as a co-morbidity lurking in the shadows of other more well-known symptoms – many of which don’t even apply to me – then perhaps I could have recognised a major part of myself and dealt with it appropriately a lot earlier on, rather than wondering why the hell I was being likened to Rain Man or little boys who are obsessed with train timetables and just having it all… not connect with me.
(I’m going to write a blog post, at some point when I’m able, about my long and complicated relationship with the whole “label” of what is currently known as “high functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome” – I’m still not fully comfortable openly identifying with it in *every* situation, but that would take a fair amount of explanation which would take a while.)
I wasn’t like that – I was just a normal girl, albeit quite awkward and reclusive and desperate to fit in, with a lazy and stubborn streak who just needed to get her shit together like everyone else and then everything would be fine.
Who turned into, as one tends to do, into a normal woman, albeit quite awkward and reclusive and not-quite-so-desperate-but-would-still-find-it-nice to fit in, with a lazy and stubborn streak who just needs to get her shit together like everyone else and then everything will be fine.
Right?
Right…?
Hello…?
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Actual footage of me trying to get something done

In fact issues with executive (dys)function are often not even mentioned at all, and if they are, it’s just within a few words, “cannot complete tasks on time”, etc, with zero elaboration as to WHY this might be, the implication being that it’s just one more mysterious tragic failing of the autistic persona, which one need not delve any deeper into – as if there is simply no depth to even be found within.
We Just Cannot Do Things Like Others Can.
Such a pity I know… but what can you do eh? *sigh of resignation*
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(Image courtesy of memegenerator.net website)
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It’s basically the reason I take a really long time to do seemingly simple things, why I find it very difficult to prioritise tasks, and often why I’ll find excuses to avoid them completely. It can take me several days, weeks, months, and even years to do things which need not take up that much time. I’ll KNOW what I need to do, in a very broad sense, but actually putting things into action in an effective way, to the point of completion, is something else. I’m trying to accept this aspect of myself more these days, to try not to see myself as just slow, lazy, lacking in initiative, etc… but I still see myself that way. I still feel very much like a lazy and ineffective individual merely in need of a good kick up the arse, and often feel like punishing myself accordingly, resenting myself for not even being entirely sure whether I *can’t* or whether I *won’t* do any given thing. I’ve been told repeatedly by many in life that I’m just not trying. As if I’m CHOOSING to constantly flounder and struggle with the simplest things in life.
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This might sound ridiculously petty but one of the quotes I hate most in the world is the one by Yoda:
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 (Image courtesy of starwarsbloggers.wordpress.com fansite)
Yoda may be a tiny wise green creature, widely revered throughout the Galaxy Far Far Away, and much of the other stuff he says is very spot on, but I’m going to have to respectfully disagree in this instance.
In my humble opinion, there is a metric fuck-ton of “try” involved with pretty much everything in life. And what makes things even worse is when you ARE trying *in your own way* but cannot prove to others that you are, you just know, somewhere, that you’re doing things to the best of your ability. At least you think you are. Some of the time.
Then you’re told – informed, rather – with the sheer self-assurance of their own knowledge that only a barely qualified so-called professional government employee can convey, that you’re Not Trying. That is a truly maddening experience which can take its toll over the course of time.
Simply being told, in a bright and blase tone, to “get on with it” or “have a word” or “be productive!” just isn’t enough in isolation, without a solid plan with clearly outlined steps in a rational sequence in place.
It’s becoming something of a challenge to remind myself, constantly, that perhaps it’s down to a particular wiring of the brain that causes me, and many others, to approach tasks, and indeed life in general, in a different way. It’s still a work in progress trying to find a way to function in a world not designed for you.
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(I realise there is probably a certain degree of contradiction in the fact that I even managed to compose this semi-coherent ramble-ette in the first place. Although it just sort of happened – I was going to write a social media post about the article which inspired this train of thought, but then it just sort of took on a life of its own.)

Other Things Besides Going To Prague

When trying to summarize the happenings since finishing uni four-five months ago, I went off on a bit of a tangent describing one particular thing I did about three months ago. The other things I did do, in rough order of their occurrence:

  • Go to Prague (with a whole post of its own below)
  • Become enamoured by the mental image of zipping along in Italy (or another pleasant climate) on a vespa, leading to my starting moped/scooter lessons in a bid for a bit more independence when getting from A to Z and indeed anywhere in between. “Lessons” was meant to be “lesson” but I was thwarted by factors such as heavy rain, losing control of the bike as a result of heavy rain and as a result losing a lot of confidence. Four lessons in and I have no certificate, and not sure I will ever get one. Resigned to walking for the foreseeable future.
  • Continue to watch my baby niece grow into a highly intelligent, observant and adorable little mini-person, and have helped with the odd feeding and nappy change in exchange for some emphatic babbling and the warm glow of being a first-time auntie.
  • Undertake more volunteering, albeit exclusively remote. One project is editing and proofreading books for a digital library, another is writing reviews for a comic website, another is researching and editing biographies for a Nobel Prize website.
  • Read biographies in my own time: “Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl” by Carrie Brownstein (Slater-Kinney/Portlandia), recounting the life of a rock/indie musician back in the 90s Seattle grunge era, among the first musical eras I can remember from the first time and so which carries some resonance. “The Motorcycle Diaries”, by Ernesto “Che” Guevara (re-reading) recounting the time in the early life of a guerilla revolutionary figure when on a road trip in 50s South America, a time which is less familiar but an urge to get on a fast-moving vehicle and go on an adventure. Both of these I would suggest to anyone who wants a kick up the arse to start something, whatever that may be, of their own.

The things which I did not do, in rough order of non-occurrence:

  • Gain a paid job so that I could earn a bit extra and have a daily routine more closely resembling that of a normal person.
  • Write a novel/poem/short story which is actually presentable or worth reading.
  • Secure a mentorship from an author I highly admire in order to counter the lack of initiative I seem to have when it comes to writing.
  • Adequately prepare myself for the prospect of turning 30, or complete all the things one should reasonably expect to have done by 30.

So it turns out that no matter how much procrastination you do (and how much of the procrastination monkey you invoke) the age of 30 still comes for you. Damn. Whether reading the biographies of those who had already lived an adventure, and then some, by that age, or reading the social media of those who are lagging behind me in terms of age but light years ahead of me in terms of living a well-rounded life, one more worthy of a novel or at least a few seasons of a new Netflix programme.

One where you do The Thing instead of thinking about doing, and berate yourself for not doing, The Thing.

It would be nice to think that I’ll binge on all the Stuff I’ve Not Yet Done in order to feel like a more regular person in good time for blowing out the candles of the (vegan) birthday cake. But that might not happen, and is unlikely to happen. While this is under consideration, here is a photo of Edinburgh Castle. Because Edinburgh is a nice place.

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Graduate. Again.

Howdy ho,

Since my last post, mostly I’ve finished my dissertation, had it passed through the exam board, judged by the powers-that-be, and received confirmation that I now have a Master’s degree. Well, another one. It was incredibly hard going and I honestly – not even slightly humblebragging here – never thought it would get done. It just somehow… did get done. Failure failure seemed like distinct possibility and even now I can’t help wondering if they got it wrong and are just being extra-nice to me for some bizarre reason. But it looks like I’m a graduate once again, hence the post title.

After catching the last of the summer sun in the family “second home”, as shown here:

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The view is really quite something…

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His favourite place, along with any place where he can go swimming

My lovely sister took me out for a celebration, and took this rather scary photo of me:

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The view is really quite something…

I did some more cat-sitting:

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The view is really quite something…

Then yesterday I went to see one of my favourite authors, Janice Galloway (Google if you don’t know the name), in conversation about a new release. 2015 certainly seems to be an interesting year for literature, if for nothing else on the culture scene, IMO. Being a major influence on my own writing, this was an important thing to go along to, not only due to also having a Scottish heritage but also having a narrative voice that I could almost hear inside my own brain, if I actually had the talent and motivation to scribble/type more often. This will likely lead to a review being done on here sometime in the near future.

The above, and also applying vehemently for jobs aside, that leaves quite a bit of spare time once again. Filling it in a productive way is now proving to be the next big challenge. There’s only so much “recovery time” I think I can plausibly take before needing to do something again. So:

  • There’s writing. There’s always writing. That now really goes without saying.
  • Doing something worthwhile. Volunteering, in the absence of something which actually pays money, because bad things are happening right now (and admittedly always are) and it would be the least anyone could do with time to spare.
  • Photography. Keep meaning to spruce up the photography page on this site and this would be a decent incentive.
  • Socialising. Still working on being better at being a “normal person” again after months shunning company while in Dissertation Mode. This may take a while.
  • Travelling. Plenty of time but little in the way of inspiration or direction.
  • Online dating. Some of which I’ve already done. More on that another time…

The nights are fair drawing in (again – why does this keep happening?!?) but the autumn sunsets this has brought have been rather impressive. Managed to snap one:

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The view is really quite something…

Procrastination Monkey

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The “figure” you see here has assumed a few roles within its existence. Firstly, as you can see from the metal chain on the head, it was originally an accessory which came attached to a handbag, but upon realising that it wasn’t suitable for more sombre occasions like job interviews for example, I detached it and let it become a cute ornamental addition to the coffee table. Then, over time, it came to be a convenient symbol, and even a by-line, for other things too. Namely, being a handy “pointer” towards things on that coffee table which needed to be done and still hadn’t been done and could they be done soon please… During this time it came to be known “affectionately” as Passive-Aggressive Monkey. Strange memories of employing the monkey for various tasks which were as-yet-incomplete were formed during this time.

Later on, when my general life situation become more “on track”, such as in beginning my postgraduate course, it would be relegated to being merely a faded relic of a time gone by, a creature sadly out of a job and unnecessarily reminding me to get things done, as I would glance at it, safe in the knowledge that no I no longer needed reminding to get things done, and could it simply sit there and enjoy its retirement in peace.

However, as the course proper is now finished and, yes, I technically have a qualification, there is still the tricky matter of the Dissertation. Capitalising the “d” is deliberate, due to its current omnipresence in my life. Not only is this the second dissertation I’ve had to do, it’s exactly twice as hard, if not more so, than my first dissertation, not least due to being twice as long and to be completed in less than half the time. Without boring you with the details of exactly what I have to research and write, you can take my word for it that it is a capital-c Challenge.

Erstwhile – as I alternate between a genuine desire and interest in the subject and try to learn as much as I can, then feeling the motivation drain away like someone’s pulled a plug somewhere inside me, replaced with a genuine conviction that I’ve indeed bitten off more than I can chew and the pesky thoughts creeping in that I should quit while I’m ahead and bow out with at least a shred of dignity before I spectacularly crash and burn – the Monkey has been sitting quietly assuming a new, but not entirely different, role on the coffee table and in my life. Now it has become Procrastination Monkey.

Pure and simple, Procrastination Monkey simply epitomises the fact that, with the relatively few distractions I have to doing my dissertation and it being the only “real thing” I have to do right now, I currently have no excuse or rationalisation for my hardly having written a thing even halfway into the dissertation “season”, nothing I can point at and say “that’s the reason” – only me. The fact that almost any significant task, which involves time and patience, and significant re-writing which leaves my brain in a useless tangled pile, has now been short-cutting me straight to the “I can’t do this so why bother” stage.

The voice of conscience maybe, like Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio, but ultimately silent, and judging, not even able to give any advice or assurance or motivation. Something like “OK honestly if you just push through this feeling of drainage and demotivation and just Do It Anyway you’ll at least get somewhere even if it takes you an embarrassingly long time” would be something, but  that would also be expecting slightly too much from what is ultimately an inanimate object on the coffee table. Just that it would be a positive nudge if it could give silent admonition, but also a nudge forward in the right direction.

Until then, it will just have to sit, assuming any role I give it, so anthropomorphically of me, while it sits on the coffee table, occasionally obscured by a mug of coffee.

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Hello again, and welcome to more of me.

Some news which will considerably change life in the near future: my sister and brother-in-law are expecting a baby in the middle of 2015, so congratulations to them of course. 🙂 They already have a considerable “family” of non-human creatures, (one of whom I like to have as a guest at mine every so often, and hopefully she feels the same), so this first human addition to the family for a long time is one I’m looking forward to, as this one looks set to be one of the healthiest and most “aware” people to join the world, right from the beginning.

On a more selfish note – still on the postgraduate course (just about clinging on) since the last post – it’s been an intensive and often very stressful stretch of time, frequently involving an “I Just Can’t Do It Anymore” mentality, but it looks like there are rewards to be gained should I continue hanging in there. I’ve had the chance, for the first time in I can’t remember how long, to meet and work directly with some cool people, many of whom are from far-flung corners of the globe and have clearly got the talent and the drive to come all the way over to Glasgow, with the awesome weather and everything, to study, on top of, well, all the actual studying. We are having to learn things which I had previously assumed to be dead and buried back in the recesses of high school (alongside the particularly acute awkwardness of my general existence at the time), along with a whole bunch of skills which I’d never even associated with being a librarian.

Apparently, librarians are meant to be not only gatekeepers of information, but defenders and promoters of public education, and generally trying to include all people in as much of what goes on in libraries as possible. Given the world we live in, so very fraught with tension and conflicting beliefs regarding freedom of speech and information, this looks set to be a very challenging job to take on. As I continue to wonder whether I’d personally be cut out for such a role, I continue to appreciate the chance to learn skills, each one a string which I can add to my proverbial bow, and ones which I need to learn quickly, as time insists on continuing on.

Where this has left my writing is hard to say; while I’ve had far less time to actually read or write (two of my favourite things to do) anything not to do with the course, what I have written during this time has been quite different from what my “style” has come to be. I’m now basically juggling the writing and the course, not sure which will end up being my “thing”, if indeed either of them will be. I’m just hoping to accomplish as much as possible without any screws coming loose, so wherever that will end up leading…

This time of year – having come round with such a velocity it’s frightening – has always been a weird one for me. My birthday is in a few days’ time (if you don’t know what age I’ll be I’m not telling), thus kicking off the “have I done enough by this age” contemplation. The short and emphatic answer to this is “NO”, and it looks like it always will be, with an additional one, “How the hell did I even get this far in life in the first place?” becoming more commonplace… But so much time has been lost to this feeling that the only thing left to do is to just keep trying to do all the things I can. In a moment of probably-deliberate distraction, I went on a mini-outing to Kelvingrove Park (in the background being the University of Glasgow, the backdrop to another phase of my life) and took some photographic evidence of my being there.

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River Kelvin and Glasgow Uni

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Snowdroppage

I’m a bit of a snowdrop fan, as you can see. Whether it’s to do with them coming up around my birthday or at the start of spring or otherwise, I’m not sure. It seems like I’m destined to never be too far away from any given university. Hopefully that will start paying off a bit more soon. Until next time!

Back to Uni, as a postgraduate this time

It has come to my attention that being a librarian is a hell of a lot more difficult than I ever expected it to be. Or maybe that’s just the training.

Of course the chance to learn a whole new set of skills, which I can use to supplement my C.V. in the off-chance that I cannot rely upon my writing alone (-_-), is a major advantage, as is the fact that it’s one of the things that I’m probably best suited to anyway. To date, this has involved learning how to utilize methods of searching other than Google, compiling a thesaurus on a subject of my choosing (currently working on), and a lot more. The drawback is that there is also a lot involved in the course at which I failed in school at the elementary level, such as mathematics and, shockingly, basic computing…

All in all, the course has taken up far more of my time and brain space than I was expecting (it is a postgraduate course but even so), so this has left little time for anything else, such as the things which I’ve said that I would spend more time on, not so long ago.

Such as cycling. And writing. And the Scottish independence thing ended up not happening, but I cast my vote, which was about the extent of what I could do in that situation.

Things I’ve had time for recently:

– Sleeping / recovering from the trials and tribulations of the course.

– Studying for said course.

– Looking out of the window on a particularly nice autumn day, knowing full well that I could probably fit in a modest amount of walking or cycling or getting a minimal amount of vitamin D but taking so long to decide to do so and try unsuccessfully to attach bike lighting (I’m one of the less practical people out there, as it were) that the already-reclusive sun decides to retire, but not before I decide to document the impressive changes in nature that can be seen from the comfort of my own home:

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View from my bedroom window – that is kind of pretty…

– Taking up my long-forgotten hobby of making figures out of blu-tack, brought on by having a leftover supply from my trip to the stationary store. This is one such figurine:

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I’m not entirely sure what it’s meant to be

Well that’s it for now. It will probably be Christmas/Winter Solstice/Hogmanay, or quite some time later on, before I have more to add to the list, so unless something else pops up unexpectedly I’ll leave it here until then.