The Dictionary Challenge Finale Part 2: A Swan Song

With the turn of a single page, it is all over. I have read the entire Canadian Oxford Dictionary and all  of it’s 4.6 pounds of definitions.

It feels like we have gone through so much together. We have travelled together. Have shared a bed together. A couch. A floor. A table. A patch of grass. A park bench. We have spent meals together. Early mornings. Late nights. We have even gone hiking together.

Like a tumultuous relationship, I have in varying degrees loved it, hated it, felt disgusted by it, felt empowered by it, resented it, been suspicious of it, been encouraged by it, and respected it. While these emotions can’t accurately be applied to the book itself, they come from the way in which I have engaged with the words that have been chosen, defined and put to page; the words that are a comprehensive representation of my language and the society I am a part of.

Reading the dictionary with CharleyI have spent approximately 370 hours with this gigantic tome over the course of 51 weeks, having finished the challenge with just 11 days to spare.

That’s over two weeks (of full 24 hours days) of my life that I gave to this project. In the way that some jokes are “too soon” to be funny, it’s too soon to decipher which feeling will triumph: the pride from having accomplished this monumental task, the appreciativeness of having learned, grown and expanded my vocabulary, or the soft regret that only a perniciously obstinate victor can feel.

Like many undertakings, I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know how hard. Foolishly I had thought I could read the whole thing in 6 months. Within a few days I realized that was not an appropriate goal and gave myself a year, meaning I would have to read 5 pages a day in order to finish in one year’s time. Even so, I fell behind quickly and steadily; at my worst point I was 242 pages behind. And I paid the price. From there, it took me nearly ten months to get back on track. During that time I had to work so much harder to make up what I had lost, but even that wasn’t good enough sometimes. I read for hours at a time until my eyes were red and I had to re-read words because they were starting to blur together. Some weeks I would fall behind more, but eventually I managed to pull even and in the weeks before my year was up I slowly got ahead.

It took me, on average, about an hour to read 5 pages. That depended on how many words I would scribble in my notebook or how many times I would have to re-read a word to understand it. For the sake of honesty: many chemical entries or overtly scientific concepts, I would read once – not really understand – and move on. And I won’t pretend that I now know every single word. I have read them all, but that doesn’t mean I know them all.

Again, this one book is the equivalent of about 26 average sized novels. Reading a book every two weeks doesn’t seem too difficult, after all, 5 years ago I read a book a week for a year. Despite loving to read, that was a difficult challenge, but this one was a whole other beast. There is no captivating story line. Characters make brief appearances, never to be spoken of again. It is all reference material. It took longer to travel 5 of these pages than 30 pages of a novel, trying to sound out unfamiliar words and truly understand those that were more complex. Often a word would cause me to pause and just sit there contemplating it. Or I would get bored, lose focus and have to backtrack and re-read a page. Those moments were particularly disheartening. My best advice in this regard is to be present. If you’re not, you just end up wasting more time. And time, well, that is really one of our most precious unrenewable resources.

Which brings me to the greatest takeaways of this challenge.

Life Lessons Learned With My Nose in a Dictionary

The two greatest lessons I learned from this challenge almost contradict themselves. First, I realized that a person has more time than they think. If you truly want to do something, if you honestly commit to it – you will find the time. Whether it’s pre-dawn hours in the morning, late nights with red-rimmed eyes, or precious minutes squeezed in between bites of food and beers with friends and daily chores and all the other moments that make up your life. We always say that we’re so busy – and we are – but we choose that. We choose to scroll through social media platforms. We choose to exercise. We choose to watch television. We choose to read. We choose nights with friends, time with family, hikes in the woods, days at the beach. We have more choice in our life than sometimes we like to admit. We choose so much and some of it has purpose, some of it is required, and some of it is a waste.

Idle moments are necessary. No one can run at full steam around the clock. You will exhaust yourself. But when you commit to doing something, you will be surprised about how you can shuffle your schedule around, how you can seemingly create more hours in a day.

Case in point. My other half began writing a novel. Then decided to also train for a marathon. And also works full time, while occasionally doing freelance work. Most of this novel has been written between the hours of 5:30 and 7:30 in the morning, before a full day of work, commuting, and now with after-work training that just yesterday consisted of an 11 mile run.

But today, after nearly two years of tireless working, the first draft of that novel has been completed. If you want something badly enough, you will find a way for it.

Reading the dictionary while campingNow for the second thing I learned: while we have more time than we realize – we still don’t have time infinity. We want to do so much – we have so many ideas, so many dreams, so many desires.

For example: I want to start a hobby-based business. I want to get into shape. I want to make dinners that are as good as my mother’s down-home country cooking. I want to learn to do my own taxes. I want to understand economics. I want to make home videos that capture everyday moments. I want more family in my life. I want to go camping, canoeing, roadtripping, swimming, hiking. I want to can fruit, pick berries, plant a garden.

These are all tangible things. They just require time. But – and this is where it almost seems like a contradiction of the first point – there really isn’t enough time for everything that we want. So we must choose wisely. Because there is enough time for what is important.

And what’s important depends on you.

A couple years ago someone told me that it’s not accurate to say that you don’t have time. You can only say that it’s not a priority right now. I hated it. Every time I did something that didn’t align with my goals because of “time”, that famous voice that sits in the back of a person’s mind would pipe up and say “it’s obviously not a priority.”

You can’t argue with it because it’s true. So even though I hated it because I felt guilt about choosing one thing over another, I respect it so much more. I like to flip it around when I’m feeling lethargic and ask “is this a priority?” and sometimes that’s enough to get me going in the right direction. We need reminders of why we’re doing what we do because it can be easy to lose sight of that.

A third lesson is patience. Not all great things take time, but many do. This is where I struggle the most. I always want to be standing at the finish line hoisting the trophy above my head. This is where I have such great respect for my other half. Two years is a long time. (Some say I have commitment issues) But finishing that first draft came from diligently working away as a handful of words in the beginning turned into pages and pages stretching across all this time into a completed novel.

It’s so easy to look at where you want to be and give up. It seems so far away, so monumental, so impossible – so we quit before we even really try for it. “Every journey begins with a single step” and “one foot in front of the other” are such tired old clichés and they really rub me the wrong way, yet, I have to admit, begrudgingly, that there is truth to them.

As I look at the dictionary – The Behemoth – I can’t Reading the dictionary on the patioimagine doing it again. Taken all at once is seems impossible. However, I remember opening it for the first time and slowly getting to work. An hour later, I had only read 3 pages. 1,812 to go.

While it didn’t necessarily keep me on track, having a daily goal of 5 pages made this challenge much more manageable. Although a daily goal of 5 pages would allow me to finish in one year’s time, that meant there were no days off and that was a big mistake. So, a word to the wise, before you embark on a challenge, make sure you consider all parts of it and make a realistic plan.

Be patient, but be committed. You will get there eventually. It might take longer than you want, but don’t ever quit. You can fail and you can take time off, but don’t quit. Victory depends on you showing up.

A Blog Dedicated to the Underdogs

I haven’t really talked much about why I began this blog. For the most part I’m a very private person so it’s surprising that I would put myself out there like this. Initially, it all began when I made the second biggest move of my life (at the time). After university, I moved to a tiny town in northern Alberta for work. I considered it my year of exile. I knew no one and didn’t think there was anything there for me other than an opportunity to write for a living and so I planned to stay for a single year to get experience before moving on. (I ended up staying two years, made some of the most incredible friends, had the best summer of my life, and most incredibly – fell in love. Things don’t always go according to plan, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.)

I spent my first two weeks living in a hotel mapping out how to make the most of this exile. It began as somewhat of a bucket list – a list of things I wanted to not just do, but accomplish. The first was to solve a Rubik’s cube. I did that within a couple weeks.

Then, I wanted to see just what I was capable of. Having been raised on a farm, meat was a staple of my diet, to say the least, and I wanted to see if I could go vegan for 3 months. So I did that. Then I wanted to read a book a week for a year. So I did that too. Soon, people were interested in these “challenges” and I realized that they could identify with the part of the challenge that was about pushing yourself to accomplish something.

It was that which prompted me to share the experience and begin Exit Sideways.

Truth be told, I have always wanted to inspire people. I am not an incredible human being and that’s what I wanted this blog to be about: anybody can accomplish nearly anything. While I take on random challenges that most people can’t directly relate to, I wanted people to see the process behind it all. The struggles, the set-backs, the highs, the lows, the failures, and ultimately the successes.

We always see success stories of high profile people. We only see the underdog story once they’ve achieved so-called greatness and I believe that because of that we have a sort of mentality that says “well, there’s something special about them. They’re not an ordinary person like me.” I wanted to show that underdog story, not from the perspective of someone who has somehow “made it,” but from the perspective of a regular person striving to accomplish something, to be something better, to say “I am capable” and to go for it.

I began this for the underdogs. The folks who didn’t believe in themselves. Who didn’t think that they were special. Who looked up to those who had reached out and taken hold of their dreams.

I started this for those people because that is who we all are until we’re the ones standing there with our dreams in our hands. We think those who have success have some sort of “it” factor. Yes, some people have more talent or more skill, but what sets people apart is those who work for it. Hard work and commitment can accomplish more than that of talent. Most of the time, it’s a regular person who worked hard and dared to actually try for greatness. No, your goal is probably not to read the dictionary, but whatever it is that you want, the struggle is always the same.

So I am no one and everyone. What I have done is not what you will do. But if you look back through these challenges, past the lackadaisical writing, you’ll see someone struggling to achieve something. I don’t always win. And that’s important because no matter what you do, you will fail many times. I just hope that you don’t give up.

Persistence is key.

Now, for the Swan Song

Every challenge, I learn something about myself or about life. However, I learned the most valuable lessons during the dictionary challenge and I had to learn them the hard way. The reason I have such conflicting emotions about this challenge is that every time I look at The Behemoth – which took hours and days of my life from me – I see what I gained, but I also see what I lost. Even though I am proud of what I accomplished and have learned a lot, there is also that empty feeling where the same voice that had urged me on, despite many days of wanting to quit, is now whispering “what’s next?”

I still cannot decide if this voice wears a halo or horns.

The dictionary and the two notebooks I have nearly filled with insights and favourite words sits in the corner while I play with my cat, exercise, make food and try to get used to the freedom that has been suddenly thrust upon me.

Was it worth it?

That damn voice can be an asshole sometimes.

Over the past year, I have moved vertically across the country from Yellowknife, one of Canada’s most northerly cities, to the southern B.C. city of Kelowna. I have read two other books. I began a new job. I discovered that wine isn’t just rotten grape juice. I shed my parka for shorts. I have won an award. I have gained weight. I have climbed a figurative mountain and many literal mountains. I have played hockey games and softball games. I have seen the inside of a gym. I have been a broomball champion. I have lost. And I have won.

I have also read the entire unabridged Canadian Oxford Dictionary cover to cover.

Reading the dictionary on the floor

And with that I am taking an indefinite break from Exit Sideways. Perhaps I will return a few months from now, maybe a few years, or quite realistically, never. I learned that my time is so utterly precious and I have so much to do yet for myself. So thank you for reading. I know I have inspired a few people along the way and while that is why I started this, I’ve also realized you don’t need me.

You’ve got this.

To read part 1 of the Finale, see The Dictionary Challenge Finale Part 1: A Lexical Overview

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Dictionary Challenge Week 20: All Good Things Come to an End

In the wise words of Nelly Furtado… all good things come to an end. So, I included a little video below so you can hear Nelly Furtado elaborate on this a little bit. Go ahead. Press play.

Now scratch the part about lovers and friends. Why? Because I never loved Bertie The Behemoth (which is what I have decided to name my hulking companion) and we are not friends despite this constant companionship. And also, the “good thing that is coming to an end” isn’t Bertie The Behemoth, but my once glorious comeback about demolishing her.

Yup. I have not broken even yet, but over the last 8 weeks I have been steadfastly digging myself out of the egregious hole I had dug for myself with this challenge (that being the attempt to read the Canadian Oxford Dictionary in under a year by keeping a schedule of reading 35 pages a week, which I had fallen pitifully behind on.)

That’s two months. And I have to bite, claw and fight every inch of the way back to par. This week the comeback stopped. I really tried to fight to keep the comeback going, but I have to be honest… I’m tired.

I’m really, really tired.

Do I stop? Do I just walk away and pretend I never tried at all?

I could.

And some days I really consider it. Some days I want to quit. Some days I want to light a match and watch The Behemoth go up in flames. (And book burning is something I do not take lightly at all…)

But then the sun rises again, I pour a cup of coffee, and I crack open The Behemoth. Some days I win, some days I lose, but all I can do is take each loss and each win and stack them up day by day until I reach the end. It is, after all, up to me whether I make it to the end at all. And when or if I do, I’m not so sure how I’ve been defining success and failure is going to be quite right.

And speaking of defining…

Clearly the challenge itself is always on my mind, so I have found that many of the words that jump out at me and I end up scribbling down are related to the experience or how I feel about myself during this challenge. As in.. I consider myself a fantast with a fighting chance despite my false start at the beginning of this fandangle in which I am trying to fight the good fight and avoid a fiasco… but maybe I’m just a fanatic who is trying to avoid a facile way of living and in doing so made an unfortunate faux pas.

But I guess not everything is about me. Right?

Fantast – a visionary; a dreamer

Fighting chance – an opportunity of succeeding by great effort

False start – an unsuccessful attempt to begin something

Fandangle – (in sense 2) nonsense, tomfoolery

Fight the good fight – act with strong commitment to a worthy cause

Fiasco – a complete and utter failure

Fanatic – (in sense 1) a person filled with excessive and often misguided enthusiasm for something

Facile – (in sense 1 a) easily obtained or achieved and so not highly valued

Faux pas – (in sense 1) a tactless mistake; a blunder

This week I also came across a few quite powerful words. Fie being one of them. It comes from Old French from Latin and is an exclamation of disgust at a stench. That right there is powerful. Because you don’t use the word stench lightly. You could use fetid or fetor and they both relatively mean something stinky. But when you whip out the big guns and say “stench” you know that is an utterly devastating smell. Plus, fie is such a hard, short word…. I can’t wait for someone to fart so I can raise my fist to the heavens and shout an impassioned FIE!

But back to fetor. That’s also kind of a fun definition, that definition being “an offensive smell.” So it’s a bit more than just stinky. It’s offensive. Just picture yourself letting a big one rip right by a high society lady who instantly becomes offended by your fetor and curses discreetly under her breath… “fie.”

Because it’s unbecoming to use actual curse words. And to shout.

Ah. Okay, enough of this fible-fable (nonsense). Find me on facebook or twitter  or subscribe over to the right of this page to follow along as I keep trying to fight the good fight… for the moment.

Week 20 Stats

Starting Word: F                   Ending Word: fighting fish

Total Pages: 551/1815         Ahead/Behind: -154

Dictionary Challenge Week 18: D is for Done

You thought it would be another month before I got through the next letter, didn’t you? Sheesh. Ye of little faith. Just kidding. My track record hasn’t been quite up to snuff this go around. But guess whhhhhat?? This gal did it.

D is Done.

I still can’t breathe the sigh of relief that comes with being out of the red, but at least I don’t feel like quite as much of a loser as I have been the last while. Those of you who have been with me through my other challenges know that I take losing, failing, and being inadequate kind of hard. Sure, I’m an advocate for it being a necessary part of the journey to success, but it still puts the hurt on a person’s ego. Maybe that’s why I’m so humble…. Pfft.

Anyways! Slowly, steadily…. I’m coming for par.

Here are a few words that jumped out at me over my perusal of the D section of the dictionary:

Starting Word: developer                  Ending Word: empty

Total Pages 491/1815                         Ahead/Behind: – 144 pages

Dictionary Challenge Week 17: Eat. Breathe. Dictionary.

When you say you’re going to do something, you have to do it. And if you don’t, there are consequences and you have to pay the price. When I started this challenge I was too busy to dedicate the time it required and foolishly thought I could easily make it up later.

A familiar story right?

Well. I’ve been living in later for the past few weeks and I am going to be honest here…

It’s been brutal. The dictionary has taken over my life.

I am not joking. I am not being facetious. I am not exaggerating. If I’m not reading it, I’m thinking about it. Every. Spare. Moment. Mostly I’m plagued by questions of am I wasting my life away with my nose in the dictionary? Will I ever make this come-back? Can I break the ten minute page and still retain things? Should I have brought the dictionary to ball to read between bats? Does anyone care or get why I am doing this? How many more hours until I’m no long behind? Am I, quite possibly, the biggest geek of them all?

I can actually say thank god for my job because it gives me 8 hours of guilt-free reprieve from reading the behemoth and from thinking about it. It’s gotten to the point that if someone doesn’t talk succinctly I start to feel anxious because they’re wasting time that I could be spending with my *precious* dictionary.

This is not something I feel good about.

But this is the price I have to pay. I was the one who fell behind. For good reasons, but it’s still on me to deal with the consequences. I just want to say sorry to all the people out there that are suffering along with me. I promise it won’t be this way forever. I hope.

This is a familiar point in every challenge I’ve ever done. It’s the point where the initial enthusiasm has worn off and I can’t rely on excitement alone to carry me through, doubt starts to creep or come crashing in, and I question the validity of what I am doing. Most people might think that at this point, it’s time to cash in those chips and walk away. I’m not one of those people that can do that. I know I won’t always succeed as I’ve learned from my last challenge and the one before that. But I won’t ever quit trying. I know to most people that reading the dictionary is odd, it’s not the same as trying to get into shape. But if it were about that, when things get tough, you don’t just walk out of the gym never to return. You buckle down and deal with it.

On June 7th I hit my lowest point: behind by 242 pages. Since then I have been reading this thing every morning before work… over every noon hour break… after work… in the evenings… on the weekends… in the car… on the couch… at the table… in my home office… in the park… in bed… on the porch… on park benches… everywhere… all the time.

I have only made a 54 page comeback in that time.

This past week I read 61 pages. Almost double my weekly quota. And it took everything I had. My eyes are red, my head actually hurts, and… I now know that deep-six originally meant bury at sea.

Which is what I sometimes feel like doing with the dictionary.

But, you know, I’m an obstinate thing and I’ve dedicated myself to the dictionary. Dedicate, if you don’t know, means devote (oneself) to a noble task or purpose. So maybe that was a catachresis (an incorrect use of words) because I don’t know how noble reading the dictionary really is. Enough of this, though. Because all that reading means I have a lot of awesome things I feel I need to talk about. First up… the action of throwing (especially a person) out of a window has a word and that word is defenestration. Especially a person! I have no idea when I will ever get to use this knowledge, but I hope when the day comes… I’m ready.

Now, decadence. It brings up images of gourmet food right? Sweet chocolates of marginal size and exorbitant prices? Well. It is the moral or cultural deterioration especially after a peak or culmination of achievement. I will throw you a little bit of a bone: the third sense of the word decadent is (of food) very rich or sweet [with the implication that eating it is an act of self-indulgence] So the question you have to ask yourself is… is self-indulgence a bad thing?

Now one that I liked was devastating, meaning crushingly effective. That sounds pretty killer… So effective it destroyed, annihilated, crushed!

But don’t think the awesome stops there. My favourite word of the week is one you’ll all know (kind of like pretty much all of the ones I’ve already mentioned) and that word is delicious. The word itself could even be considered delicious as the second sense means entertaining; very enjoyable given that I clearly have been entertained by the first sense of it. The first sense being highly delightful and enjoyable to the taste or sense of smell. Come on. You totally have to picture your personified taste buds having a discussion about a “delightful” pastry like they’re a bunch of old British ladies at high tea. You didn’t picture that? Well, I’m glad I put that image in your head.

Then there is also the dawn chorus (the singing of many birds at the break of day) and cube farm (an office where the workspace is divided into cubes) and crocodile tears, meaning not giant tears, but insincere grief. And lastly, there is cowpunk which is a cow that farmers make look punk-like by piercing their ears with jewelry and putting spiked collars around their necks.Punk Cow

Didn’t fool you for a bit on that last one did I? Cowpunk is actually country/western music mixed with punk rock. I know. You’re thinking a genre mashup like that isn’t possible. But I’m not pulling your leg this time.

That’s all for this week, folks. I really do appreciate all of you who have been here sticking it out with me. So, thanks.

(And yes. I verbed dictionary in the post title. I also just verbed verb.)

Week Seventeen Stats

Starting Word: cowpoke               Ending Word: develop

Total Pages 412/1815                     Ahead/Behind: – 188

Today I Failed

IMG_0630The Chin-Up Challenge Post Show

I have grown stronger, but I have not grown strong enough. I set out three months ago to do 10 chin-ups. Very quickly I realized this was a lofty goal and though I didn’t change it, I knew that if I could manage to do 1 chin-up, I would be happy with that even though it would still mean the failure of this challenge. This is the closest I have ever been to doing a chin-up, but I still did not do a single one.

Today I failed.

Those who have followed along won’t be surprised by this. Some might be: you might have thought I was improbably going to pull this off; you might have rooted for me; you might have seen a fellow underdog make an attempt at something; you might have even seen yourself in me about that one thing you want but have been too scared to try and have. I set the bar high and I went for it.

Today I failed.

This is the first challenge that I have failed and it’s important. It’s important because it’s easy to set goals that don’t push you or make you try harder than you have ever tried before. If you don’t fail – if you don’t fail ever – then you aren’t trying; you’re coasting. There may be nothing wrong with coasting, letting the status quo take you through your life, but if you want something more, if you want to be more, to accomplish more then you have to fail. Nobody likes this idea, but it’s true. If you keep coasting you will never know what you are capable of. There is greatness in you, but it’s up to you to find it. Whatever that may be.

Today I failed.

No one likes to fail and I am certainly no different. I don’t like being told I am not good enough, but I can accept that at this moment in time about this particular challenge I am not good enough. Perhaps I never will be, but perhaps, one day I will. That is entirely up to me. When you fail, it’s life asking you if you have what it takes to try again. It’s asking you do you care enough to try again? Are you strong of heart? And if that answer is no, so be it. That’s where you settle. That’s where you begin to coast. The thing about coasting is that you will always, eventually, come to a stop. It’s easy to give up. It’s easy to say this is the way it is. It’s easy to point to any number of obstacles and say it’s too hard.

Today I failed.

There are many reasons why – some are excuses, some are fact, and some are interpretations of commitment, dedication, and perseverance. But none of them matter. What matters is what comes next. When you go after something and you don’t get it, it’s not the end unless you let it be. You have to ask yourself, is this it? Do I quit? And I hope, whether it’s a trembling, uncertain whisper or a resounding NO, that you do not accept that it’s game over. Every time you fail and pick yourself up again, you are becoming someone who is more powerful than you were before. Don’t let disappointment or frustration make you forget that.

Today I failed.

Tomorrow I may fail again.

But that won’t stop me from trying.

Chin Up Champ Wannabe     IMG_0630

^ Day 1                                                                                         ^ Day 94

 

 

 

 

 

Raw Day 26: Rise of the Smoothies

Breakfast: 1 c. pineapple

Mid-morning: Tea; ¾ c. mixed nuts

Lunch: Smoothie – 1.5 c. spinach, 7 strawberries, 1 mango, 1 c. frozen fruit

Supper: Smoothie – 1 piece of salmon gravlax; 1 cucumber

Evening: 2 glasses of wine

The raw dining staples come down to two factions: Salads and Smoothies. Sure, there are some other blocs like the salmon battalion or the lone fruit or veggie renegade, but the core battle for top place in my dining line up belongs to liquefied food and the hodgepodge of mixed greens and veggies.

Early on it was fairly close, but then salads seemed to pull ahead by securing the ultimate position: The supper-time feast. However, lately those smoothies have definitively stolen the upper hand away from the salads. You see, salad takes much longer to prep than the smoothie. I’ve also gotten bored with the salad, but that is my own fault. For me, every salad uses the same ingredients whether they are part of the dressing or just chopped up and are a part of the main bowl of mixed veggies. I will give some big props to the “taco” salad. That thing is majestic. You’ll notice that when I do have salad, that’s basically the only kind I have now.

Ah, but those smoothies. They’re flavourful, they include spinach, you can put anything in there, and they’re almost too easy: peel, pulse, slurp. It’s a wonderful thing.

The lone fruit or veggie has been a little more prominent lately as well. They’re called mono-meals, which is when the entire meal is made up of 1 ingredient. I also like to think that mono-meal is a play on monolithic because I end up devouring a lot of that one ingredient. Sort of like the day where one of my meals was a pound and a half of carrots. Today I also had a piece of salmon, but it was sort of crazy feasting on an entire cucumber. It’s just something you don’t see very often, but hey, I guess I am a bit different.