# Goal: To be resolute

Commentary

As with every new year, I make a list of resolutions that I often adhere to religiously for the first month or so and then gradually, but persistently ignore until the following December rolls around. Once the reflective period sets itself in motion I rush to wrap up what resolutions can be salvaged, a pitiful attempt to stroke my ego and assuage my ever-increasing fears of not really moving forward in life. Needless to say, my resolution lists are often laughable.

My first problem with resolutions is that they are often overambitious. I’ve learned that if you set your goal way too high, you’re so disappointed with yourself that you can’t really make it happen, you actually quit ahead of schedule. I know this because my resolution last year was to run a half marathon. Have I even run a marathon? No. Does the word marathon scare me? Yes. Does the word half make it sound possibly more attainable? Yes. Did I know how much distance equates to a half marathon? I found out after I wrote down the resolution, and began researching training tips. It suddenly became an overwhelmingly ambitious goal that I decided to forfeit last January, even after I’d run my first 10K.

It consoles me that I am not the only one that falls in this trap. Just today I saw that one of the people I follow on Goodreads had set her 2015 reading challenge (for my slightly obsessive take on this, read this previous post) for 300 books. Surely that’s a little over the top? I mean, live a little, won’t you? Having been in the infuriating situation of not meeting my (what then seemed to be) high goal of 50 books a year, I’ve since toned it down to a meandering 36 for 2015.

Another issue I have with resolutions is that they sometimes don’t make sense to me when I revisit them a year later, either because they are too abstract or generic. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, this year I had to decide whether I actually achieved the following two resolutions:

1. Be less absolute

2. Write more.

The problem with exhibit #1 is that I have no idea what I meant here. Surely some kind of event took place that gave me some kind of profound insight into some obscure character weakness I have (maybe not so obscure if you know me well), but seriously, how the hell am I meant to know if I’ve pinned this one down or not? How much less counts as worthwhile and how much more writing is equal to a gold star? Who knows? Who’s checking? I’ll just quietly put a tick next to both to help my yearly stats and carry on as normal. Don’t tell on me.

So this year, I’ve decided to do things slightly differently: I’ve incorporated other people into my new year resolutions. Before you jump to conclusions, no, this doesn’t mean I’ve made resolutions for others, though I might be better at doing that than doing my own. Actually, the two resolutions I’ve written down and have already started (remember, it’s January still), are:

1. Take up trail running. Keep running. Just run.

Now I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t make this slightly masochistic. By keep running I mean wake up at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays and go running before work. Why? Because that’s when I have time. Also, the view of the city waking up slowly is pretty breathtaking, and why should the garbage collectors be roaming the streets alone at this beautiful time? And of course, the best way to keep at this post-January is to have a running buddy, who’s more of a masochist than I am.

2. Take #bookportraits

Because of my Goodreads stats obsession, and general voracious reading appetite, I’ve decided to document what I read this year through a series of book portraits that I’ll upload on my flickr page. I’m going to try to add reviews or general thoughts to what I read through this blog (to cover that “write more” goal on my list) because if anything, I’m darn good at reflection. Duh. I’ll be taking these photos along with my partner in crime, who may or may not hate me by the end of this project.

Tune in next year, when I revisit my resolutions and determinedly add “stop collaborative goals” at the top of my list. Oh wait, sorry, that’s just me being absolutely cynical again. (Note to self: be less cynical).

# Essential bookkeeping

Commentary

picture by Moyan Brenn on Flickr

Recently, a friend asked me to get a book for her while I was out shopping. The rules were simple: I need a beach book. Well, deceptively simple. Because really, what makes a good beach book? Something brainless that you can easily sink your teeth into? A story so engrossing that you can’t put it down? A book by your favorite author? Or simply something you just don’t mind getting all wet and gross?

In the absence of a clearcut definition, I rummaged through shelves looking for that vague something, meanwhile feeling an extraordinary amount of pressure on my shoulders. And that’s when I happened on Nick Hornby’s book: Stuff I’ve Been Reading.  To be honest, I’d glanced at this book online when it came and thought, “Why would anyone care?”. I mean it’s not a review of books as such, it bears no story, it’s just a journaling of thoughts surrounding books read by Hornby. And that struck me as the publisher trying to make an extra buck on the name of an established author.

But then, at the bookstore, I leafed through the book. And I loved it.

You see what Hornby does at the beginning of each chapter / entry is begin with a balance sheet of sorts: Books bought Vs Books read. And this stirred my curiosity because the books he buys are just so varied. And it turns out that he buys far more than he reads, and that actually made me feel quite…normal! It also made me look at my own book statistics with a different eye: the lists one can make are endless.

For instance:

Pages read so far in 2014 vs 2013: 7,928  vs 8,792

Fiction vs non-fiction books read so far in 2014: 12 fiction vs 13 non-fiction

Books bought this year:  17

Of which E-books vs Audiobooks vs Physical books: 10 vs 4 vs 11

This kind of incessant list-making of statistics could pretty much go on for a whole day so I’m going to stop myself here. The bottom line is to get reading done, but beyond that bottom line is that competitive ego that wants to see how she’s sizing up against someone like Nick Hornby, or quite frankly even you (how are you sizing up?).

Maybe I’m not the voracious reader I used to be, but I’m definitely not doing that badly, in terms of reading progress. I got a nod of confirmation from the universe just the other day, as I was out for a drink with some friends. The table next to us had a group of 22-year-old girls drinking sangria and philosophizing about the meaning of life, the beginnings of career-making and the unsuspecting changes that occur when growing older. And then one girls says, in a voice of authority reserved for generalized statements: You know once you hit thirty, you stop reading. I can start to see it even now, I mean, I used to read 5 to 6 books a year and now it’s all dwindling to an insignificant number.

Well, you know, nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone I know has read at least 5 or 6 books so far this year, but maybe I’m hanging out with the wrong crowd. Or maybe we’re all in denial that we’re past thirty.

Yeah, that must be it.

Commentary

I’m what they call a late adopter when it comes to technological gadgets. Though the emphasis in that phrase should be on the adopter, because eventually not only do I adopt new technology but I become its most annoying evangelist.

Usually, I’m resistant in adopting something new, simply because I have so much access to existing technology that seems to work fine. I remember when my (still) favorite cell phone, the Samsung U700, decided to throw in the towel and I had to get a new phone by force. I stood in front of the 30-or-so phones on display and proceeded to internally debate as to whether I should get a touch phone instead. I would ask the salesperson at intervals, “Should I get a touch phone?” repeatedly, and the fact that there was no one in the shop but me made for a pretty uncomfortable exchange for the both of us. In the end I caved in. Today, I’m all for touch technology and all the great conveniences it affords us at the touch of a fingertip (and with a little help from 3G connectivity). You can be the smart-ass of the group at any time — who wouldn’t cherish that?

The same happened when I bought my Kindle ink display. I was doing work on my laptop till late one night during Christmas vacation, and then I got it in my head that having a bunch of Kindles at the school could revolutionize how my students do research. I started getting so excited about it and before I knew it, I had added the product to my basket and I was about to click buy.

I always work on impulse, and I knew that this impulse might have been an unwarranted splurge so I tried to wake up my boyfriend, passed out on the couch, to get an “OK do it, it’s a great idea!” Somehow getting a verification from a third, outside party always works in stroking all my financial insecurities. He tried to be objective, but he was drowsy and it worked to my advantage because two days later, I had a Kindle in my hands that I didn’t know what to do with. I’m an avid reader, and I’m one of those people that loves touching books, leafing through them, stacking them next to my bed, the toilet, the door. So the Kindle brought with it a little existential crisis: did I just betray the book? And what if I ended up loving the Kindle? And so I gave myself the excuse that I would buy e-books that I wasn’t 100% keen on — second-choice books, if you will. But of course, what happens when after you read a second-choice book, you realize it’s actually pretty great? Turns out, nothing happens. Because you’ve still read it, and you feel all the better for it. I marveled at the accessibility, speed and convenience of an e-reader. And it helped me mix up my reading: a real book by my bedside table, an e-book in my bag that I can take out and read whenever I’m waiting in line somewhere and an audiobook in the car.

That’s right. Time wasted: zero. Knowledge gained: maximum.

I’m still experimenting, so please, share your iPad insight. I’m in the process of becoming an enthusiast, but I haven’t quite recovered from the shock of realizing the sum of all the technology I own. Sure, my generation has been labeled digital natives, but I wonder the extent to which that’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy or an act of voluntary digital immersion. Behind the glow of LCD screens and frantic tapping we are illuminated with the power of the internet and its connectivity. And that kind of connection in an increasingly disconnected world has come to mean something. It’s come to mean a lot.

# Raising a not-so-perfect puppy

Rants

I like to be as excruciatingly thorough as possible in pretty much everything I do. So of course, when we got our  puppy, I spent the better part of my free time obsessing on how to master the daunting task of proper training. The internet was an easy ally in this case: I surfed the endless forums for training, became Cesar Millan’s ultimate fangirl and obsessed over a book I read in a day, bought when I brought the puppy home. How can anyone resist a book called “The Perfect Puppy”?

You could say I have a problem. I won’t judge you.

Before I knew it, dog training lingo started making its stealthy way into my conversation: positive reinforcement, crate training, off cues, sit, stay. I accidentally talked to my 1 year-old-godson in this vocabulary, but luckily no one heard me. My sister fell prey to the same thing; she recently got a dog too, and found herself clicking her tongue at colleagues, friends and myself whenever she wanted to reprimand or hurry things up. It was hilarious, but also sad. We were imaginary queens of dog training, but pathetic examples of defeat, because behind the lingo lay the futile attempts at getting it right, while getting it wrong almost 90% of the time.

You see, all these experts make it seem like it’s a piece of cake. They say: Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a dog.  They don’t say: Sucker! Welcome to a life of shit and puddles!  They say: Follow these three steps. They don’t say: Haha! GOTCHA! They say: Repetition is key . The don’t say: Repetition is pointless.

Sure, I’m a cynic, but I remember as I was breezing through the book I kept thinking, “Yeah, this is so manageable, I can so do this.” When confronted with failure I tend to either get angry or get angry. And I got angry, but most importantly persistent. Sit, was a relatively easy command, everything after that has been near impossible. I’ve been trying to teach Teddy the cue for “off” which he understands under controlled conditions, but not when we are out on a walk. As a result he has swallowed many a plastic bag, cigarette butts and other unnamed disgusting things that I sometimes feel disinclined to pull from his mouth, even if I always end up attempting it.

And to make things more challenging, he’s growing by the second. My greatest fear is that I’ll wake up one morning and see him towering over me. It’s like he’s devoured that Alice in Wonderland cookie on one of our walks, which could make sense since it reads Don’t eat me. The forbidden fruit is always more delicious even for the illiterate. Recently, I discovered the hard way just how tall he’s become in the past month. In the limited time I had for my lunch break, I left Teddy in the living room and migrated to the study to do some research on short film documentaries. I discovered this gem of depressing creativity, and 2 minutes into it I realized that Oden was actually the dog. It wasn’t long before the mandatory close up shot for the euthanasia scene, and that’s just when I paused it, all teary eyed and sad because I didn’t want the dog to die its inevitable death. It made me feel lucky for my own little fella, and I went to the living room to play with him in a genuine sense of gratitude. As I tried to move past his hyperactivity, I noticed in the far distance a familiar object: my pair of sunglasses doubling for a dog toy. The little rascal got them off the kitchen counter! He was now tall enough to reach pretty much anything. I resorted to my book, which advised teaching the off cue. A no-brainer, right? Too bad it doesn’t work.

So three months after that fateful meeting at the vet, I find myself pretty convinced that I’m not raising the perfect puppy at all. He’s destroyed a pair of Camper boots, a handmade fridge magnet made by my friend G—  made by an Icelandic pine cone she got on vacation, the couch, a journal and countless pairs of trousers. When I take him out for the 5:30 a.m. walk in my hole filled leggings and disheveled hair I think to myself, What has become of me?  But then when we come back home and he sits patiently for his food eyeing me with the expectation, I melt. I guess they call it puppy love for a reason.

# Restraint

Commentary

You may or may not know I’m from Cyprus.

You may or may not have become aware of the economic crisis that’s hit the island hard.

And because I may or may not have money to spend on new books, I’ve decided to make a comprehensive list of books I have on my shelves that I have yet to read, as a form of inspiration. For once, I’m happy that I have so much pending material. A list is provided below for those interested in any of the covers. I shall be posting my progress here, as a means of encouragement. You can see the current book I’m reading on my Goodreads page (see widget on sidebar).

P.S.: I know! I can’t believe I’ve amassed so much unread material either. Am I the only who does this?

I’m an easy person to please. Give me stationery and a good book with your personalized message and I’m a happy camper. As I’m writing this, I have four journals waiting to be used, all of them presents from friends; I’m looking at a fresh letter set along with a patterned sticky tape set waiting to be put to use; I’ve got a set of sharpened pencils waiting to spoil pages with my thoughtless rumbling.

And yet something has changed. I like all of these things, but feel disconnected from them. And I have had a lifetime of absolute fidelity to writing, reading, recording this or that insignificant detail. I have my thoughts on paper from the age of 8 — a shelf full of journals that pin down my  naive childhood, my tempered adolescence, my youthful adultness. I have successfully made it here, to almost 30 so that I can come to an unforeseeable halt?

And it’s not just the writing, it’s the reading too. After a lukewarm start to the New Year, I’ve managed to read about four books that have neither excited nor inspired me. I’ve even resorted to audiobooks, which only occurred to me as a feasible idea after reading this somewhat inspiring, if not impossibly ambitious, article.  I’m currently reading Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, which I’m finding atrociously boring, two-dimensional and stale. I also own in audiobook (don’t ask why), and have been trudging my way through it for the past three weeks despite reading at home and listening to it on my way to and from work. If nothing else, at least I’ve discovered that I’m definitely not an audiobook person.

So recently, in the hopes of regaining some form of inspiration to jumpstart my imagination, I have began transcribing my diary entries, from that very first journal. It dates back to January 1992 and I could not feel more far removed from myself as I do now. I have decided to share the first entry with you (translated from Greek):

6 January 1992, Monday

Tomorrow we’re going back to school. Oh! What bad luck. And we are so used to sleeping at midnight whereas now we will have to sleep at 9 p.m. Unfortunately we have to go to school. But then again, I will see my friends.

xx

Maybe this will get me out of the rut. Oh and this blog, which I hope to revive slowly. Your encouragement is a welcome delight.

I told you I was easy to please.

Commentary

# Leash not included

Commentary

Yesterday, after a day of trying to get to grips with the idea that I wasn’t going to have a pet after all, I called the vet to settle the bill for her treatment. He charged us less than I had anticipated, and I appreciated this a lot. We arranged for me to stop by on Tuesday to pay the balance.

As luck would have it, my boyfriend got off work earlier than usual, which happens once every — no, wait, that never happens. And so when I came home we decided to pay a visit to the vet after all. I was set on asking him to keep a look out for me for any potential puppies and let me know. He recommended a local organization’s website that he worked with, and I added that to my list of potential dog resources. By that point, I had realized that the chances of putting myself through that process of selection were very very slim. So bill settled, we left the clinic just as a young couple with their 4-year-old daughter walked in. I felt sad, but not as devastated as I had initially suspected.

As we were getting in the car, the vet comes out and calls us in. “There’s something here that I think will interest you,” he said laconically.

And we walked in to this:

It was a male puppy that had wandered into this family’s yard, but they couldn’t keep it because they already had a labrador. They figured their vet might have an idea as to what to do with it, and here comes our cue. It was too fluffy and hairy for my taste. It was a little boy and I’ve only ever had girls. It was absolutely not what I imagined I would ever want, but I fell in love with him in an instant. It was as though that serendipitous meeting was meant to happen. We both readily accepted him into our arms and into our home.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I present you Teddy Mercury. In this episode, Teddy Mercury meets a ball for the first time. Stay tuned for more adventures!

# Ruby

Commentary

Let me tell you about that time when I had a puppy for four days.

On Tuesday after a very fruitful talk with my best friend, I came home quite determined to find myself a puppy.

You see, for the past 2 years, at least, I’ve been trying to convince my significant other to adopt a puppy with me. I grew up with dogs in our household — loving little creatures that made coming home an extra special treat. But coming home to an empty nest just made the whole living on your own a bit of a bore. My efforts were relentless: we’d visited the dog shelter together, we’d liked the same dog and on a hopeful whim I had bought a leash for my imaginary dog-to-be. Nothing ever came of these visits; the red leather dog leash filled up the cupboard for all things undefined with a quiet sense of defeatism. At first, stubborn as I am, I refused to give up. I would go through periods of timid acceptance before I relapsed into dog obsession mode and became quite an insufferable person to be around. My significant other, would not give in. He wanted to be ready and I gradually came to believe the one indisputable fact: we’d never be ready.

But then on Tuesday, I came home and with a few clicks and scrolls, I came across Argos Animal Sanctuary and on their Facebook page was a little face I couldn’t resist. It was love at first sight. It was the dog I had been dreaming of. It was at that moment that I knew that this was going to be my dog. That night, I told my boyfriend that we would have a new addition to the household and then I showed him the picture. He smiled in agreement and I thought, what else could this be but divine intervention? My dream was finally coming true — until I found out that there was another person interested in adopting this little cutie. I must admit, I was a little worried, but deep down I knew that if I was meant to have her — as I felt that I was — I would see her at the sanctuary and I would take her away with me for our much-awaited happily-ever-after.

On Wednesday right after work, my mom and I drove to the sanctuary with the effervescent joy of teenagers. We were excited, yet anxious. Would we find her? Would she be there? When we asked for her, we were taken to the puppies area and surely enough, there she was. Tiny and fragile, yet absolutely gorgeous. I signed the papers and yes, we were now the proud adopted parents of the sweetest pup any owner could want. In the car, she looked at us with big, sad eyes, ever so expressive. She was quiet and docile and a little car sick. I pinned it down to the stress of being in a new place.

After I gave her a bath, I snapped the above photo — still thinking that surely this is some kind of half-dream. She was much the little explorer — following me from room to room, patiently waiting for me on my heel, before moving on along side me. She was hungry for love, but she was quite on edge. She refused to eat, but she did drink a little water. It astonished me that she hardly ever sat down — she was always on her feet, evaluating the situation. It wasn’t until I finally took to the couch, that she made an attempt to join in by putting her tiny paws on my resting feet. I set her down on her own cushion next to me and sat down next to her, helping her lay down to rest. It wasn’t long before I gave in and put her on my lap, where she fell asleep as I petted her. It was a moment I held on to dearly, in the days that followed. Even my boyfriend indulged in this loving exchange, as she migrated to his lap, as though I’d warned her about winning him over. Our unit of two was being reconfigured.

But then, on that night, she kept throwing up and had severe diarrhea. It was clear that this was not good news. I took her to the vet that had given her the first vaccine, with the impression that he could have known something more about her history, but this proved to be a big mistake. After a superficial examination, he pronounced her sick with gastroenteritis and prescribed a bunch of medication that it was clear would do no good since she couldn’t eat. And his parting words, “I hope she makes it”, confirmed what I suspected. He had destined her to her death.

In the car, on the way home, she was so lethargic, that I thought she might die before we got home. It pained me to leave her alone for the two hours I had to work that afternoon, but what worried me more was the fear of coming home to a lifeless body. As soon as I got of work, I came back for her and took her to another vet, to get a second opinion. I found her mischievously on the couch like a princess, and put her in arms for that last trip from home. The other vet was very good with her, and after a blood test and an ultrasound it was determined that she had parvo, and that the odds were against her. But I just couldn’t give up on her — I wanted to do everything I could for her. After all, wasn’t it fate that I had picked her? Wasn’t it destiny that she would be given a second chance by receiving proper medical care? Hooked on IV and strong medication, the poor little one stayed in the clinic, trying to fight a losing battle. But she was not fighting alone: i stopped by daily, mom dropped by unannounced, my sister, best bud and boyfriend came along to enliven her. We all wanted to breathe life into her life through love. And she was looking better — there was some meat on bones. But the IV fluids can fool you. I refused to give up on her and I refused to stop being hopeful. I was convinced that I would will that virus out of her.

But then on this Sunday morning, the vet called me. I was wide awake, but still in bed, and I was daydreaming about Sunday walks we’d take together on the beach once she got better. I thought he was calling to let me know that I could go and visit her — ever the Ms. Glass-is-half-full. But instead, he awkwardly mouthed down the line: “I have some bad news”.

You see, I really wanted a dog, but not just any dog. And so when I saw her cute little photo I felt that she had sort of chosen me. And maybe she had. They called her Molly at the shelter, but that was clearly a misnomer. She was a precious little thing. Her name was Ruby.

# One girl, six cups of espresso

Commentary

Recently I’ve taken on the role of espresso queen. I must say that I’m failing at all of my imaginary duties including managing to make the aforementioned coffee with even nominal success. But true to my nature, I refuse to let up, give in, raise the white flag or quite plainly to revert back to dear old poisonous Nescafé.

My coffee snobbishness set in on a cool Saturday morning when we visited two of our friends for brunch. I’ve been on a no-milk-whatsoever diet for the better part of this year, so at the absence of a milk substitute, I opted for a water diluted espresso, what I later discovered in my utter naivety is called a luongo. I was worried that drinking it would be a true struggle, mostly in my attempt to hide its underlying bitterness.

But on that Saturday morning, when I asked if it would be too strong, my friend M— decried the myth that espresso is bitter. “Good espresso should never be bitter,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. Yeah right, I thought. As I was served my coffee, I hesitantly took a first sip, only to realize, to my complete astonishment that it was quite certainly the best coffee I had ever drunk. So rich, so smooth, so easy to down in a gulp, were it not for its hot temperature. I was a changed person.

Soon after, on my birthday to be precise, I went to a local shop to buy filter coffee and on a whim decided to buy an espresso kettle. Completely clueless on how one decides on a good kettle, I went by my aesthetic instinct: a blue that matched my kitchen. As I pulled out my wallet to pay, the man behind the counter offered to treat me to an espresso. Feeling like quite the connoisseur, I indulged, though memories of the earlier incident burned fresh on my palate. Still, I summoned the courage to drink it in almost a shot, completely on the go, Italian-style, before I got my paper bag and left. It was bitter; thank God I had spearmint gum.

The very next morning I decided to try out my skills at espresso making. How difficult is it, you ask. It’s a lot more than I had anticipated. For starters, the first hiccup to my coffee was the very fact that I had bought a much larger kettle than necessary. This resulted in a total of six cups of espresso, even when I was the only one drinking. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but after the whole packet of coffee I bought ran out in a week, I started being thrifty with the measurements. And here appears the next problem: I could never get the water quantity and the coffee quantity just right: it was either too weak or too bitter, and the amount of coffee I made was always at least for three or four cups. My boyfriend started drinking shots of espresso, convincing himself that it’s good coffee after all; I started putting two or three shots in my morning Americano. At some point weeks after this frantic, nonsensical denial, he turned to me and said, “This tastes like shit.” I could only concur.

About two weeks ago, I managed to get a smaller kettle and you’d think that my espresso worries have been assuaged. Far from it I’m now faced with a new daunting challenge: half the times I make my espresso, it tastes strongly of soap. No matter how much I rinse it, the taste won’t easily go away. The first time it happened, appalled, I rinsed it down the drain and brewed another coffee in the six-cup kettle. The second time it happened, I drank about a fifth of it before quitting. The third time it happened, I downed half my latte. Naturally, there’s a part of me (the more rational me) wondering: Is this the price I have to pay to convince myself that I’m drinking good coffee? Isn’t it about time I whip out the old Nescafé and enjoy a frappé like a decent human being in need of a caffeine fix?

We’ll see.

# Don’t let me down

Commentary

You won’t often find me admitting to be in the wrong, but I think it’s high-time I face the music. My problem is that I always set the bar too high. Some of you may think that this is surely a good trait: after all, what’s wrong with a little aspiration? And better yet, how great is it when that unachievable task you set on your list is conquered and quite determinedly crossed off your list?

It’s not that great, really. Ask any perfectionist. Any high goal achieved will automatically mean that the next time, the goal should be even higher. The adrenaline of a challenge is unparalleled, the threat of defeat such an ulcer-inducing experience, the fervor of achievement only a punch-drunk second. I fall for it again and again and again.

I first realized this in December. I greeted the 12 days of Christmas with utter anti-consumerist spite and had decided to do something more personal and genuine for our long list of friends for Christmas 2010 (last year). I ended up baking a series of cookies and treats, boxing them up with personalized gingerbread men and adding Dutch stamps and twine in an attempt at a faux-parcel. It was a great surprise for everyone, but mostly for myself, for pulling off 12 boxes filled with at least 5 different baked goods by yours truly. This year, I knew that if anything, I had to exceed expectations, if not meet them. The overachiever in me wanted to go all out, convinced that I couldn’t bake the same goods. What complete shame to deliver the same box of goodies a year later? I scavenged for recipes that would impress, I drafted ideas for a theme, in fact, I spent entirely too much time on something that didn’t really merit it. Testament to this was our friends’ response: 1 second appraisal of box, before ripping it open to begin devouring contents. Who cared about presentation? Who stopped to think, Boy I’ve eaten this before

No one. And that’s normal. Now I know this.

And though I recognize my over-ambition as, perhaps, my biggest flaw, I can’t help but feel disappointed at myself whenever I underperform by my standards. Take the summer, for instance. Come this glorious season of smelly armpits and drones of mosquitoes, I make a list of goals I wish to see through by the end of my two month vacation (the perks of teaching, I’m afraid). And on my list, around the top, float the same words year in, year out: Read a lot of books. I assume that this is on the list of most ordinary people in the summer, with the possible omission of the words “a lot of” for obvious reasons. Now, the problem this year,  is that sometime in December again, I decided to join the online book community Goodreads, which eagerly prompted me to set a reading goal for 2012. At that point I had just received an order by Amazon for 15 books and I was overjoyed and optimistic at my reading capabilities during the year. So I decided to set the goal to what I considered an acceptable, if not essential, target of 50 books in the year. During the two-week Christmas vacation, I read four books and I was in such a high spirit that I thought I had regained my peace of mind and my fast reading pace. That number dwindled to a staggering three books until the next vacation, Easter, during which I managed to trudge through a mere 130 pages of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. What an embarrassment.

To think, that in college, I read at least 25 books per semester and that’s not counting the ones I devoured for pleasure. At the back of my mind, this was my most productive reading time, I assume, and for that I hold on to it with a competitive ardor that even intimidates me on some days. You see, in all honesty, a part of me knows that it doesn’t really matter how many books I read this summer. In fact, I’m doing quite well, I’ve managed to go through 5 books in the last month. But yet another, more empirical side of me, seeks the quantitative data with strong desire to hold it up as a trophy of achievement, so I can look back at my former younger self who is quite surely disappointed at my sluggish reading. And even when I’m trying to not think of anything, there’s still that parenthetical reminder on Goodreads that furtively informs me: “Congratulations! You’ve read 13 books out of 50. (At your current pace you’re 18 books behind).”

It’s a castigation of sorts. It inflames my inner pride. It makes me the wrong kind of reader, too. Immersing myself in a book has nothing to do with numbers, after all. It’s about striking that connection, getting lost, even momentarily, from lists and personal insecurities and entering a world that I’m sure I value more now, in my 29-year-old worrisome head, that I did as a 20-something student.