Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Zurich, Switzerland: Working & Traveling is Hard to Do

Most mornings I feel absolutely discombobulated. I think this is the primary reason why I miss home--and that is, having a daily routine. Routines are safe and predictable. You know how your day is likely going to go, what possible surprises are in store for you, and most importantly what your expectations are. I like to leave unpredictability in my stories...not in my life (most days). This state of being is a little like torture. A combination between business and pleasure. Half of me between work and the other half in travel/adventure mode. It's unnerving to someone like me who works off of plans, who functions on plans and having a structured day. Why? Well, because I hate experiencing anxiety, of course. I hate it so much that I can literally turn my back on something important if the anxiety level is more than I can bare. Most times, this doesn't stop me from meeting a challenge head on, but other times...like now...all I want to do is turn my back on it and crawl under a rock for a couple of days until the feeling goes away.

Being here, I have to step back and leave too many things out in the open. (I've accepted that I just can't operate any other way, not for long periods of time.) Whether it be work, traveling plans for the weekends, or even what the hell to do with my writing. Work (my real job) is hard to define, all on it's own--requiring ample amounts of motivation and some creative swimming through murky waters that are constantly challenging me. Every evening is trying to define all the minute details of the coming weekend's travel plans. And then there's the writing. Always hovering over me like a gnawing guilt, starting out the weight of a toddler until it's the size of a full grown man riding my back, when I've ignored it for too long.

I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I know this. I'm working on it. Being type A doesn't help. Sometimes the expectations we set out for ourselves are alarming high. At first we don't see this, not until we're standing beneath it, jumping for all we're worth and then do we realize, there's no way in hell I'm going to reach it. Okay, more pessimistic than I intended. There's always a way to reach our goals--like finding a stepladder, borrow one if you have to, or grow up (all metaphorically speaking).

Writing makes me happy. When I'm not writing, I feel out of sorts--purposeless. Trapped in a semi-angry state and confused about...everything. Slightly over-dramatic, but representative of exactly how I'm feeling on days like these.

Well, I'm happy to say that I've done a full manual edit (meaning pen on paper) on the manuscript of Violet Storm. I am working on incorporating those edits to the Word document which is as fun as hearing nails on a chalkboard.

All-in-all, things for the most part are okay. I think I need to see more progress with the writing and then I'll feel better.

This Easter weekend, I'll be heading out to Ville de Lumieres, Paris.

So, au revoir pour maintenant, mon ami! ;)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Zurich, Switzerland: Broke after Dinner

View of the river Limmat in Old Town

My mom inspired this blog after I told her, "When I asked for water at the restaurant, I'd just asked to pay 8 bucks for a bottle--no tap...Got two chicken breasts at the market that were 12 bucks. No kidding. And I went to the movies, spent $45 on two tickets...to which Chris added, 'Can I get a Sprite and some gummies?'--there goes another $12."
My mom said in response, "What are you eating then?"
"Cookies. Cookies are cheap. And there's chocolate everywhere."
"OMG. You should blog about it! Tell people that they can't afford to live there."

So here's me telling you, you can't afford to live here. Hell, I can't afford to live here. And I'm the queen of Frugality--your stretch every dime, friend; who eyeballs price-tags like they're the devil, and plays the luxury vs. need name game with every purchase.

For those of you who saw the video tour of my apt, this precious 700 sq feet of space I'm sitting on costs as much as my mortgage back home that's at a none-too-shabby 1700 sq feet in the sweet spot of San Jose. When I told my mom about the rent here, she said, "That's how they live there? But what if you have kids? It's so small." Well...the solution is that you get a bigger apartment, with an even bigger rent.

My co-worker Meagan loves the miniature--everything--of the apartment. Mini apartment for a mini vacay with a not so mini price-tag. Even the cups and glasses in the apt. are mini. I feel like I'm playing tea-party at every sit-down meal.

One of the hardest things is definitely grocery shopping. I spend a lot of time playing cryptographer; trying to uncover the clues on a package that will reveal it's contents, hoping that I haven't just bought a slab of liver or turkey links when I prefer good ol' pork and chicken.

The currency in Switzerland is Swiss Franks, aka CHF. Converted to U.S. dollars it's about 20% more expensive. I'm not the best at explaining this, but to give you a real life example, an average McDonald's meal costs 15 swiss franks...tack on another 20% and that's how much your MickyD's cost you in USD's--approx $18. Did you choke a little? Me too. {Update: Chris told me not to get my panties in a wad about the exchange rate. He says it's closer to 10% rather than 20%...maybe I'm just being extra cautious. LOL}

But cost aside, (which is not easy for most travelers to do) the landscape is gorgeous in Zurich. I laugh a lot at the street names. My street for example, is Mutschellenstrasse--which, if I've counted correctly is an astounding 18 letters long.

The weather's been sublime, and I'm catching myself wearing dresses like I' ve suddenly discovered that I'm a girl. Everything is easily accessible by bus, tram, and train, so you certainly don't need a car to get around. I'll be visiting Basel or perhaps Lucern tomorrow; only a quick train ride away. But it's not all play and no work. I'll be heading to Salzburg, Austria on Sunday for the Eurosys2011, a 3 day PhD conference. I recently found out that the local University in Zurich, known as ETH Zurich is considered to be Europe's equivalent to M.I.T. (a note-worthy alumni, Albert Einstein, attended ETH).

I'm definitely enjoying my time here. Thanks to the cost of food, and the need to walk to get anywhere, my waistline is making a come-back! S'okay that I'm addicted to coffee, practically vibrating all day from the caffeine intake. But I could definitely get used to this...

Beautiful day out and it's lunch time. I'm starting in on my edits...yeah that's a lot of edits to incorporate and I'm only 2 chapters in. Oh, and don't get too excited, that's sparkling apple juice :)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Here's a tip...

I'm writing this blog in our sunny apartment in Zurich. Which should equate to an awesome start to the day. Except that's not exactly the first word that comes to mind.

A couple things you think I'd have learned from my previous travels: bring Pepcid AC--or anything that comes close, because it's a guarantee I'll get heartburn. You'd think that getting sedated on air plane for freaking out because I thought I was having a heart attack on my way back home from Greece was a lesson learned--idiot. But honestly, I thought that had been some kind of fluke. Even though, I did tell myself that from that day forward, I would never leave home without my antacids. It's day two in Zurich, and I've had heartburn 3 times already. TMI? Fine. I've had four hours of sleep and I'm on my second cup of coffee, because my brain decided that 3am was a perfectly superb time to be wide awake. Chris wasn't thrilled, and I could tell by his grumbling that he wanted to smack me with his phone the minute it told him he'd never willingly been up at this time before. (Here's where I miss my three story house, where I can escape somewhere without having to worry I'll wake somebody with my clanging utensils--I mean, booklight.)

Let's make this short and sweet then. I've finished my novel, Violet Storm. Woohoo! Except that doesn't really mean that I'm finished. It means the story has been told but now it's on to the fine-tuning, the make-it or break-it precision editing. I spent the better part of last week jotting down all sorts of tips on how to maximize my editing so that the final copy will be in its absolute best shape for the viewing pleasure of an agent (if it even gets that far). So I started thinking about my query letter. (For those who are curious, a query letter is a one page pitch to an agent asking them to read your manuscript.) Let me give an awesome, special thanks to my cousin, Chanelle for not laughing in my face when she read the opening hook for my query letter. Okay, clearly, I have lots of work left to do.

First tip you should employ when it comes to final edits, is to give you and the manuscript, two weeks of much needed space. It puts just enough distance to allow you to look at the work objectively, though it's still not as effective as having a trusted third party reviewing it. Note the word trusted. Because really, the last thing you need is to have the kind of person reading your work who enjoys nothing more than kicking you in the face with an insult--passive or not, no one deserves to be insulted after the kind of dedication and hours spent on a project such as writing a full length novel.

Another invaluable tip that comes close to making first: when you start the editing process, stay away from lighters and bins. There's no progress made burning your manuscript--and trust me, you'll be tempted. Yes...it sure would feel good--but the frustration that puts you on the precipice of employing this tip, usually comes while you're editing. Hence, it doesn't make it as the number one tip for final editing. Well when you get there, fight the temptation!

I'm still at week one. And that's why I'm blogging. Trying to keep my mind busy, thinking of something else other than heartburn, and the dizzying desire to get started on the editing.

More on this later.

Loving Zurich, but missing home and cuddly cat.

Do you have a tip you'd like to share when it comes to final edits?