katharine has a minor success

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Taking a short breather from the onslaught on failures to reflect on my recent success. A few weeks ago I made my book, The Curable Romantic digitally available for the masses. It pleases me to announce that the book is now available in print via Amazon. I’m officially joining the ranks of the self-published and working diligently to legitimize the process.

The publishing world is evolving. Writers and readers are able to interact more freely than ever before. We can release creative content without interference of the publishers who can reject projects based on their own needs or the perceived needs of a choice target demographic. That does mean more crap can take up valuable shelf space and bandwidth. But let’s be honest, even with the middle-man, a whole lot of crap gets the green light.

Anyone can write a book. Now anyone can print a book. Can anyone sell a book? The Curable Romantic is a funny little book that has a chance to find the right audience, if I can market it well. In the coming months, I plan to make the effort to connect with potential readers, to tiptoe out of my comfort zone and do what’s within my power (and budget) to make this project a success.

If you’d like to follow along with the progress, please join The Curable Romantic Facebook group. Celebrate the tiny successes with me.

Failure #6: Stick to a Fitness Regimen

I like ice cream. I also like muffins, cupcakes, bubble tea, chili cheese fries, pizza, bread pudding, oatmeal raisin cookies, and any combination of pasta and sauces. And you know what? Those things do taste as good as being thin feels.

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The problem is that I like to eat but I do not like exercise. This is because I am lazy. If presented with the option of playing frolf (frisbee golf) in the park or watching a marathon of Welcome Back, Kotter, I’m probably going to choose the Sweathogs over actual sweat. Lounging on the couch while watching things I’ve seen ten times before is more appealing to me than going out in the fresh air and sunshine. And at the end of the day, I don’t smell like grass and outdoors. I probably smell like Cheetos.

And so it is that I am days from my 30th birthday, out of shape and still wrestling with body issues. With no reunion, wedding or bikini demanding a toned body, I lack the motivation to get into shape. I’ve been battling the bulge most of my life and have tried different exercise programs over the years but none of the routines stick. This can be partly blamed on my laziness but also on my intentions for different workouts.

As a child with various allergies and maladies, I wasn’t encouraged to run around or participate in physical activities that might result in severe injuries. I was mostly instructed to sit down and be quiet. I began life as a roly poly baby and carried around my baby fat for the first 17 years of my life. Then I just got grown-up fat, which isn’t nearly as cute or endearing. With my own food budget and a craving for sugar, butter and lard, I consumed a lot of fast food during my teen years. By age 19 I hit my heaviest at 175 pounds. By today’s obesity standards, 175 is nothing. Why, it’s almost average. But it is still big enough to mean you have to shop in the husky ladies’ department.

Once I moved from my hometown to a booming metropolis, there was less and less of me to love. I was walking instead of being driven around. I was no longer making trips to Taco Bell or KFC for my daily dose of the tasty trinity. Such a dramatic lifestyle change meant the weight dropped off. By my 20th birthday I was down to 115 pounds. The loss alarmed my mother, who was probably convinced I’d taken up drugs and other unsavory habits in the big city. Over the past ten years I’ve put a little more Kraft Dinner on my bones but I haven’t come close to becoming Fatharine again.

I still walk everywhere but I just can’t get into exercise. Some exercises involve special equipment or heavy machinery. Others involve counting. Videos require watching people in better shape than myself pretend to have a better time than me while perspiring. All fitness programs demand a certain level of enthusiasm for physical activity. “Oh boy, let’s jump up and down 20 times! Woo! Now let’s see how close we can get our knees to our eye sockets! Yay!” I don’t even express that kind of enthusiasm for things I love. What I need is an workout program designed for lazy cynics.

When you’re a recluse-in-training like myself, it can be very difficult to meet new people. Bars and clubs can be too noisy to make social connections while libraries are too quiet. Apart from jobs and church, most social settings require some sort of routine consumerism. Gyms involve routine consumerism with the added bonus of physical improvement. Except nowadays people exist in their own bubbles, shutting themselves off from outside distractions through their portable electronic device of choice.

In my pursuit of physical fitness as social activity, I joined a “walking group” once that turned out to be me and two larger single women engaging in early morning bitch sessions about the opposite sex and the perils of online dating. I had to quit because 6:30 a.m. is too early for me to be defending my relationship to bitter thirty-something ladies who believe all men over 45 are slimy creeps.

Just before the Big Move, I enrolled in a ballet class which was filled with 60-year-old fangirls of the tightly packaged teacher-boy. The acoustics in the classroom were lousy and all the ladies wanted to be close to the soft-spoken danseur. I quit after two or three classes, after I realized I wasn’t going to fit in there. A few years before that, a friend invited me to use her guest pass at Curves. I found the mix of machines and low-impact exercises accessible but quickly exhausted of the overplayed disco tunes pulsating through the tinny speakers. If I never hear YMCA or Hot Stuff again, I’ll pen a personally handwritten thank you note to Jesus.

And so, the quest for washboard abs remains a solo endeavor. Occasionally I’ll have one muffin too many and discover an unwanted muffin top. Then I pull out the Pilates book and the yoga mat and try to muster up the will to lose enough so I can once again comfortably wear pants without elastic. But exercise at home feels like a chore. Though I know the 15-minute walk (uphill both ways and, for five months of the year, in snow) to and from my subway station isn’t much, it’s more active than simply getting in and out of a car.

That I’ve been able to escape obesity for this long without strict diet and fitness regimens is an amazing feat. It will no doubt catch up to me. As my metabolism slows to match my sloth-like movement, I suspect I’ll be forced to go up a pant-size or two. But maybe I’ll stumble on the perfect workout program or a gym for cynical, socially awkward nerds. Or I’ll invent a Wii game that combines Boggle and Dance Dance Revolution. In the meantime, there’s a very special episode of Welcome Back, Kotter I’ve never seen.

Failure #5: Failing to Procreate

This installment of 30 Failures by 30 deals with child-free and pro-choice issues. If you are sensitive to discussion about sex-related matters, you might want to skip to another entry.

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This is not a failure. I do not consider my abstention from parenthood itself a failure. It is simply one more example of how choices I have made set me apart from the norm and make socialization a challenge. The decision to remain child-free is still an unpopular one in North America, but my womb is delighted to not be contributing to the world’s population and overcrowded public school classrooms.

That I emerged from rural Alabama without becoming a young mother is a miracle as the penises of young virile Alabama boys are strongly averse to condoms. I don’t know if this is a religious matter or an issue with extra foreskin or the lack of proper sex education in schools. I knew several girls who got knocked up before graduation. Some girls arrived at high school freshman orientation with their newborns. Which seems like an awful lot of work just to get out of writing the “What I Did on Summer Vacation” essay.

I don’t have any gut-wrenching experiences with abortion, miscarriages or pregnancy scares. As miraculous as it may seem, I have reached the end of my 20s without purchasing a home pregnancy test. And yet I am not a 30-year old virgin. Is this a sign of practiced responsibility or undetected infertility?

Over the years I’ve heard the arguments for and against motherhood. I took it all under advisement and arrived at the logical conclusion that I would not be a mommy. In a society that believes an empty womb is a wasted womb, motherhood is an assumed eventuality. Advances in science and modern medicine still leave me prey to older women patting me on the knee and telling me it’s not too late to change my mind and have a little one of my own. A friend of my mother’s once told me that pregnancy increased breast size, as if the prospect of larger breasts would convince me to have children. Um, no. Also, what an odd thing to tell a 16-year-old girl.

Breeders like to accuse non-breeders of being selfish, claiming that we don’t understand the struggles and rewards that come with being a parent. But we do understand the investment of time and money. We see the sacrifices good parents have to make in order to give their children better lives than they themselves might’ve had. We see the mothers on the street loaded up like pack mules just to take one child to the park. We are aware of what it takes to be a good parent and we’re opting out of parenthood altogether.

If I am selfish, though, isn’t that a good enough reason not to procreate? Isn’t it just as selfish to bring a child into this world simply because you want one? “Go forth and multiply” is an antiquated notion. But I recognize that it’s not my place to dictate whether other people should or should not become parents. All I can do is hope that those who have chosen parenthood did so for the right reasons and hope that they’ll respect my decision.

Being child-free by choice means missing out on more social events. If I’d had a child, that would’ve opened up opportunities to re-experience childhood, if only vicariously. Just think of all the toys and events and activities I missed out on that I could share with this new creature! However, I’m not thrilled with the idea of having a kid just so it can do all the things I didn’t get to do. “Look here sonny, you’re going to Welding for Toddlers whether you like it or not.”

Our neighbourhood, once full of aging Polish immigrants, is filling up with young families. Women who might be closer in age are still worlds apart. There is a noticeable social chasm between me and the 20- and 30-something mothers. I cannot relate to child-rearing anecdotes. I can’t contribute to discussions about the latest in baby technology. And no, I’m not particularly interested in looking at photos of babies smeared with food substances.

The price for freedom is loneliness. I am free to pursue endeavors that I couldn’t with a papoose strapped to my back. My boyfriend and I do what we want, when we want without worry of lining up a sitter or obligatory play dates. If I should find myself alone and getting on in years without someone to take care of me, I could adopt a sullen teenager for companionship. Maybe in 20 years, the topic of rejecting motherhood won’t be as taboo as it is today; that the breeders and non-breeders can live in harmony without admonishing the other for their lifestyle choice. Until then, I will continue my streak of not peeing on sticks and sidestep the strollers on the street.

Failure #4: Ride a bicycle

Wheels are not my friends. They do wonderful things for other people and provide numerous helpful services. But we do not get along. Oh, we’ve tried to make it work, but I just kept getting hurt.

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Every attempt to go roller skating led to me collapsed on top of one twisted ankle or another. A trip around the go-kart track ended with tears, an injured foot and a missing shoe. My elementary school had piles of old tires as playground equipment and I was always falling into them. I even stub my toe when pushing a grocery cart.

And so I’ve never ridden a bicycle. Never experienced the freedom of taking off on my bike to ride with friends down cheery tree-lined suburban streets. Never rode a tandem bike with a beau around a riverfront park. Never entertained fantasies of competing in the Tour de France. Never had a legitimate excuse for wearing spandex shorts in public…

Like anything worth doing, riding a bike requires time, practice and patience. No one in my household had experience in bike riding. The only bicycle we owned was a stationary exercise bike in my mother’s bedroom. I would occasionally play on it while watching Perfect Strangers on TGIF. Because my feet couldn’t reach the pedals, playing really meant honking the horn at Balki and Cousin Larry until my sister would yell for me to quit it.

Unlike a car or pony or personal chauffeur, we probably could’ve afforded a cheap, used, beat up old bike for me to crash into a tree. Living just below the poverty line in the U.S. did mean that we couldn’t afford the hospital bills if I’d crashed myself into a tree. And I wasn’t the most graceful child. Even with three seasons of dance classes, I was pudgy and clumsy. I could bruise simply by sitting down.

But looking back, I didn’t yearn after that little pink bicycle with the tassles and the basket with flower decals. It was never on my Christmas wish list. Instead, I dreamed of a limousine with a hot tub in the back after I saw it in Phil Collins’ video for Take Me Home. Surely I couldn’t get hurt in that!

When my family moved to the outskirts of a smaller, more rural town, bike riding became even less of a possibility. Living right off a highway meant the streets weren’t really child-friendly. Or pedestrian-friendly. Unless you liked trying to cheat death by dodging log trucks.

I suppose it’s not too late to learn. I could go into a local bike shop and buy some cheap, beat up old thing—plus all the silly safety accessories that one needs these days. After suffering through a hilarious montage of bike accidents, I could be feeling the wind in my hair and bugs in my teeth. And, finally, I would have an excuse to wear that spandex bodysuit.

Failure #3: Master the Art of Conversation/Small Talk

Can you tell me when being a polite, quiet person fell out of vogue? At what age should one be heard as well as seen? When is it appropriate to speak even when not spoken to? I think I was absent the day this stuff was covered.

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When I was younger, my quiet nature was a virtue. The adults in my life were so impressed with my ability to sit down and shut up. The teachers appreciated how well-behaved I was and often stuck me with the task of taking down the names of all the heathens who would cause a ruckus when no adults were present. Sometime after graduation, though, people began to equate quiet with weird. A few would ask “Why are you so quiet?” in an accusatory tone, as if politely listening to a conversation was a sin.

As an introvert and recluse-in-training, I have little occasion to practice the art of conversation. In my defense, I can blame some of my social awkwardness on my hearing impairment. To avoid the frustrations and (quite literal) headaches that come with trying to concentrate on multiple strains of conversation, I just stay out of social situations as much as possible.

When I am thrust into social settings, conversations generally fall into two categories: things I’ve never done but others have and things I don’t care about. So when someone starts off by saying “One time I was so wasted…” or “Remember at Bible camp when…” I know it’s time for me to sit back and think about foods I have enjoyed because I won’t have anything intelligent or fun to contribute to the conversation. One of the purposes of this “30 Failures” exercise is to work through these common social experiences that I never had and find something salvageable that I might be able to share when people around me start talking about bicycle riding or the shoeless people of New Zealand.

Since my silence was encouraged when I was a kid, I never got properly socialized. Where does one go to learn small talk? I went to public school. My family only ate around the dinner table on holidays. Church? Oh, it has to be church. I didn’t really go to church, so that must be the source of small talk refinement. Anyone can talk about Jesus!
“So, how about that Jesus?”
“Yep, he’s a swell guy.”
“Some weather we’ve been having.”
“Indeed.”
“You know who enjoyed a good rain shower? Jesus.”

Sometimes I surprise myself and carry on delightful conversations with one or two people. Most of the time, however, I am a frog in a shoebox (Hello my baby, hello my honey…ribbit). And content to sit back and let people talk at me or just let the surrounding conversations wash over me, absorbing the bits and snippets of chatter that filter through my faulty ears. In fact, there are times when I don’t notice that I haven’t been actively participating and I don’t feel awkward about it. But then some wisenheimer pipes up with “Jeez Katharine, stop hogging the conversation…maybe next time you’ll let someone else talk.” Reminding me once again of my social inadequacy.

As a writer, I have control over how and when I share information. In a conversation, the other party can ask questions about things I’d rather not discuss—like family life, occupation and why I moved from the Deep South to the Great White North. While writing these essays, I can present sensitive information and touchy topics far better than I can articulate them over cocktails in a bar. On the rare occasion that I do get into a conversation and someone asks those seemingly banal getting-to-know-you questions, I freeze up like a deer in headlights. I don’t have easy responses because I haven’t had an easy life. “Where are you from?” usually leads to “Why don’t you have an accent?” And I just don’t want to get into a discussion about my hearing impairment with someone I’ve just met and will possibly never speak to again.

This is the first item on my 30 Failures list that I think I should work to improve in the future. I can get away with the ol’ nod-and-smile for just so long before people catch on that I’m not as polite as I am socially dysfunctional. Maybe I’ll sign up for Remedial Small Talk for Introverts at the learning centre. I should strive to become more engaged and engaging. At the very least, I could add more guttural utterances when someone asks me about the weather.