The Dictionary Challenge Finale Part 1: A Lexical Overview

It’s Saturday morning and the sun is streaming through the living room window. Ten o’clock has not yet come and already I feel lost, unsure what to do with this beautiful, glorious day I have, all of sudden, before me. I have just spent the past two hours with the dictionary – the last two hours I will ever spend with it in this way.

There are so many words

While my vocabulary has definitely grown as a result of my time with this project, I am also fully aware that most of the words didn’t stick with me. I kept two notebooks over the course of the past year which I can revisit to be reminded of those entries I deemed worthy enough to make note of but still forgot as I tried to cram thousands and thousands of others into my brain.

When I reflect on the sheer amount of words we have, I get amazed that we can even communicate properly. Language is so complex and also so incomplete. We have so many words that a single person can’t possibly know them all, yet there are still gaps in our lexis. If my language doesn’t have a word to describe something exactly, another language will and we don’t have a problem with stealing it. Where we are with the type of English spoken in Canada today is an evolution of language influenced and changed by the mingling and intertwining of different groups of people and their languages. We have German and French and Japanese and Latin words (among many others, of course) in our common lexis and to me, English doesn’t even seem like its own language anymore, having borrowed so many parts and so many words from elsewhere.Reading with Charley

So here we are. There are so many words (in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary) and I’ve read them all.

I have published an A to Z list of my favourite entries, an extremely condensed list of all those that made it into my notebooks from the past year, and you can see them in the post titled Favourite Words A to Z.

From the 300,000 words, senses and definitions, from the 2,200 uniquely Canadian words and senses, from the 7,000 idiomatic expressions, from the 5,500 biographical entries, from the 5,600 place names… I have narrowed it down to just two entries to share with you.

These are my absolute favourite words:

Elegiac – having a pleasing quality of gentle and wistful mournfulness

As I have said many times before, words speak to me for different reasons and this one is a prime example. The word itself feels a little awkward, but the definition is soft and I love the way it describes this particular feeling. Like walking the quiet streets of your hometown so many years later or catching the smell of something specific that transports you to some distant place of your past, it encompasses this feeling I have of being so grateful for all the moments I have lived, while also lamenting that they are gone.

This definition is aimed primarily at works of art that elicit this feeling, but it really has a much wider appeal for me. It is also related to an elegy which is a song or poem of lamentation, especially for the dead. Again, this word isn’t necessarily limited to just these things. It’s a beautiful word and it should be used wherever this feeling exists.

Bedazzle – confuse by excess of brilliance

I love this definition. The word isn’t new to me in any way, however, I only ever considered it as another word for “stunning,” but it so much more. There are people that function on this other level and you can recognize their genius even if you can’t understand it and that’s what this word is. It’s not about glitz and glamour and beautiful people or magic tricks. It’s about the people who change the game, who make progress happen, who are so brilliant at whatever it is they do – be it music or athletics or science or business or whatever – that the rest of us can’t even comprehend it. You’ve got to have respect for that.

Reading the Dictionary

And now, having read the entire unabridged second edition of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, I don’t need to read anything ever again. Everything from here on out is just a remix. Right?

All About Those Brands

Coming across brand names and band names in the dictionary was interesting. Some you just had to wonder what they were thinking. Like the band Incubus. This is “a male demon believed to have sexual intercourse with sleeping women.” Not exactly what I’d want to name my band after. Even Yahoo is wondersome as it is “a coarse, brutish, uncivilized person” which comes from the name of an imaginary race from Gulliver’s Travels. Yahoo is a fun thing to shout on a rope swing, but when you’re naming yourself surely you should take into consideration other implications.Reading the Dictionary

Nike, however, got it right. Nike is the goddess of victory.

But then there is Avalon and various businesses use this as part of their name. Avalon Events. Avalon Candles. Avalon This. Avalon That. What it means? The kingdom of the dead. (I hear those Avalon Event parties are killer.)

There’s also the band Passion Pit which is “a place where people engage in sexual activity.” There’s the indie rock band the Noisettes, which is “a small round piece of meat” in singular form. Then there’s Megadeath which is “the death of 1 million people, especially as a unit in estimating the casualties of war” of which the band Megadeth, drops the “a” from. And when you think about it, it’s not really as cool and metal as it seems, because it’s more trivializing to all the people who have died in war than it is cool.

Sure, it’s just a name… but what I’ve learned is that words and how we use them really do matter. It shapes our world.

Bonus Knowledge

Along with learning what words mean, I have picked up a lot of what I’ll call bonus knowledge. Here is a random smattering of things I have learned:

Bikini (as in the bathing suit) comes from the Island Bikini which was a site for testing nuclear weapons. A bikini is named after this from the supposed “explosive” effect. A calzone comes from an Italian word meaning “trouser leg.” Cilantro is fresh coriander. Purple used to be called purpuran. Flat leaved parsley has more flavour than curly parsley. Einstein was a pacifist.  Karaoke is Japanese and means “empty orchestra.” A muskox is a goat-antelope. Nice originally came from Middle English meaning stupid, wanton via Old French for silly, simple. A crocus is also called Prairie Smoke. Rohypnol now turns blue when dissolved in a drink. Snoop comes from a Dutch word meaning “eat on the sly.” Tragedy comes from Greek tragōidia, apparently meaning “goat song.” And finally, utopia is Latin and literally means “no place.”

How disheartening.

The World In Which We Live

It is not surprising that a utopia is only imaginary or hypothetical, that it is “no place.” I learned many, many things spending time with the dictionary. I expected to learn things, but I didn’t expect for the dictionary to tell me how horrible we are.

I am not naive. I alternate between pessimism and optimism. I believe we are all capable of goodness, but that greed – more than anything – will be our ruin. I see the potential for a peaceful, happy world, but I see it as a mirage because you can’t have true anarchy. The world will never survive on principles of goodness or morality or ethics. Someone will always ruin it.

You see, the dictionary has many entries for people who have done such amazing things. People like Terry Fox and Harriet Tubman and Albert Einstein. However, it is also filled with many more things that don’t speak to the greatness we are capable of, but rather to the malevolence that seems inescapable. Like the entry for Giordano Bruno who was burnt at the stake for believing in an infinite universe with many worlds. Or Charlotte Corday who assassinated the revolutionary leader Marat in his bath and was subsequently guillotined. Or William Tyndale who was strangled and burnt at the stake for translating the Bible.

While there are sloughs of names in the dictionary for people who have been killed or executed throughout history, we don’t have to focus on individuals to get a sense of humanity. Let’s look to the Children’s Crusade, when tens of thousands of kids were organized for a crusade to the Holy Land, except that most of them didn’t make it, instead being sold into slavery.

There were eight more Crusades. There was also the Thirteen Years’ War, the Eighty Years’ War, the Nine Year’s War, the Seven Year’s War, the Thirty Years’ War, and the Hundred Year’s War. There were civil wars, wars of revolution, rebellion wars, and independence wars. There was the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Napoleonic wars, the Wars of the Roses, two World Wars – and this is only a few of the wars that this world has suffered.

We have always been fighting each other.

So much so, that we have terms like cannon fodder, “people, esp. soldiers regarded merely as material to be expended in war” and pogrom, “an organized massacre, originally esp. of Jews in Russia; an organized, officially tolerated attack on any community or group” and war of attrition, “a prolonged war (e.g. WWI) in which military strategy is based on the calculation that the enemy’s manpower and resources will be exhausted before one’s own as a result of numerous battles, usually involving massive losses on both sides.” Humans should not be treated as disposable. There’s something very wrong with all of this.

But let’s not stop there. We’re also the ones who created the caltrop, “an iron ball with 4 spikes placed so one is always facing up, used to impede cavalry horses.”  We created the cluster bomb, “an anti-personnel bomb spraying smaller bombs or shrapnel when detonated.” We created germ warfare, “the systematic spreading of micro-organisms to cause disease in an enemy population.” We created Agent Orange, “a highly poisonous herbicide used as a defoliant, esp. by US forces during the Vietnam War.” We also created nuclear weapons, machine guns, cigarettes, gas chambers, the electric chair, Sarin Gas – it’s almost astonishing all the things we have come up with to kill ourselves.

Of course, absence can also be deadly. Imagine you are dying and someone has the cure but won’t give it to you. That’s not too far off the definition of an orphan drug, “a drug that is useful but is not commercially viable for the pharmaceutical company producing it unless it is granted tax credits and other special status.” Essentially meaning you’re going to die because they can’t profit off saving your life in the worst case or meaning you will remain sick or hurt or disabled when you could be healthy.

And remember, even the great moments and accomplishments of mankind are mired with stories of hardship and brutality. Terry Fox had cancer; Harriet Tubman was born into slavery; and, Albert Einstein was barred from holding an official university teaching position in Germany for being Jewish in the lead up to WWII.

These entries tell a story of the world we live in based on what has happened. However, it does not speak so much to the relationship of language to society. So please, let me indulge you just a little bit further.

The Language We Use

The hardest thing I had to wrap my head around was that the dictionary doesn’t decide who we are, instead it shows us who we are. It does not have an obligation to shield us from the harsh language we use against ourselves and so there is a plethora of entries for derogatory terms and malicious words. The dictionary does not decide what words mean. We do that in how we use them. The dictionary simply defines the meaning that we ourselves have created.

What I found, based solely on the words compiled in the dictionary, is the level of sexism that is apparent in society. I will be the first to admit that everyone is influenced by their own idiosyncrasies, and because I am a woman who experiences the inequalities of my gender, I am more sensitive to gender issues. I am more likely to see what may not be apparent to others in regards to the severe disjunct between how men and women are seen and treated and the words used to perpetuate this.

There are a handful of terms used for men, specifically, that are derogatory. Terms like dick, “a stupid, annoying boy or man” and prick, “an objectionable man.” These types of words were few. Terms for men mostly consisted of entries like Casanova, “a man notorious for seducing women” and hunk, “a sexually attractive, well built, and ruggedly handsome man.”

There is also this entry for Old man, “an affectionate form of address to a boy or man.”

Yet, when we begin to talk about women, everything changes. An Old woman is a derogatory term for a wife, mother, or girlfriend in the first sense and a fussy or timid man in the second sense. Over the course of the entire dictionary challenge, I kept note of the words used to describe women and nearly all of them are defined in one of the following ways:

  • A woman regarded as a means of sexual gratification; women considered sexually
  • A very sexually attractive woman
  • A malicious or spiteful woman; a quarrelsome woman
  • A woman regarded as unattractive, sleazy, sexually promiscuous, or immoral
  • A prostitute or promiscuous woman; a woman considered to have an overly sexual image
  • A woman, esp. an older one, thought unlikely to marry
  • An ugly or malevolent woman; a dominant or aggressive woman
  • A woman having or affecting scholarly or literary interests

This is what women are reduced to through our language. There is only one word for a woman “having or affecting scholarly or literary interests.” That term is blue stocking and it is still a derogatory term.

As a woman, these are all the things I supposedly am:

Adventuress, Ass, Babe, Bag, Baggage, Ball and Chain, Battle-axe, Besom, Bimbo, Bint, Bit of fluff/stuff, Bitch, Blue stocking, Bombshell, Boy toy, Broad, Bubblehead, Bunny, Cat, Crone, Crow, Crumpet, Cunt, Damaged goods, Dame, Ditzy, Diva, Dog, Doll, Dragon lady, Drab, Dumb blonde, Fancy lady, Feminazi, Floozie, Fluff, Fox, Frump, Fury, Gill, Gold digger, Grim alkin, Grrrl, Hag, Harlot, Harridan, Heifer, Hellcat, Ho, Hussy, Ice queen, Jade, Jailbait, Jezebel, Lolita, Looker, Lorelei, Man-eater, Minx, Nubile, Nympho, Nymphet, Old bat, Old lady, Old woman, Piece, Piece of ass, Plain, Plain Jane, Poontang, Pussy, Scarlet woman, Scrubber, Sex bomb, Sex kitten, She-devil, Shrew, Skank, Skirt, Slag, Slattern, Slut, Sole, Spinster, Strumpet, Stuff, Bit of Stuff, Tail, Tart, Tarty, Termagant, Totty, Tramp, Trollop, Trout, Vamp, Vixen, the Weaker sex, Whore, Witch, Young Lady.

According to the dictionary, every one of these terms has a derogatory or offensive definition.

We can go further and use language to learn even more about the patriarchal tendencies of society. Masculine means “manly, vigorous.” To help spell this out, the definition of vigour is “powerful operative force; intensity of effect or operation.” Now, on the other side, Feminine means “womanly, effeminate.” Effeminate means “characterized by or proceeding from weakness, delicacy, etc.”

We all know women are not weak, so why is femininity equated to womanliness to weakness? Virago once meant “a strong and courageous woman, esp. a warrior” but that is the archaic definition and now it means “a domineering, abusive, or ill-tempered woman.” This is where the evolution of our language and words shows us the mentality and constructs of our society. We have turned our strong women into something none of us wants to be.

Women are also much more sexualized than men and where men are celebrated for their inherent sexuality, women are meant to feel ashamed, yet again. Make an honest woman of is a phrase that means to “marry (esp. a pregnant woman)” Of easy virtue, is a phrase for a woman that means sexually promiscuous. On the shelf, is a phrase for women that are past the age of when they might be expected to marry. Honour is “chastity, esp. of a woman.”

Similarly, give oneself only applies to women and it means to “yield sexually.” Guess what? In consensual terms, women don’t yield sexually. They have sex.

But then again, we use language to try and reinforce the idea that women don’t have sex. They’re just sex objects. The fifth sense of the term possess is “have sexual intercourse with (esp. a woman)” The fifty-ninth sense of the term take is “have sexual intercourse with.” And while ravishing means “extraordinarily beautiful” the root word ravish means “commit rape on.”

The way in which women are regarded in society is not surprising when you consider that pudendum is a word for the genitals, particularly of a woman and it comes from a Latin word that means “be ashamed.”

Can you see the connection here? Can you hear the oppression lurking in everyday words? There is a massive preoccupation with women’s sexuality. Our language allows for women to be only a few things, though we are so much more, and when we are strong or smart we get labelled in all the wrong ways. I’m not suggesting that we need to bring our men down; I am suggesting that we need to bring our women up. We need to raise the bar. Change the standard.

People hear the word feminism and they have it all wrong. It is simply, “the advocacy of equality of the sexes, esp. through the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of women.” It’s about the liberation of women from oppressive tendencies in society. Is equality so much to ask?

Women are not possessions. Women are not objects. Women are not weak.

So remember that the words you use have very deep implications. They are not just words. They are a reflection of your beliefs. So whenever you speak or write, know what you’re really saying, what you’re conveying to the world and the ideas that you are perpetuating.

We may not write the definitions in ink or bind the book, but we are the ones who create the dictionary.

To continue reading, see The Dictionary Challenge Finale Part 2: A Swan Song

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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

Dictionary Challenge Weeks 43-44: If You’re Thinking of Quitting

A change happens when you can see the end in sight. You stand a little taller as the burden lessens and the sun shines a little brighter – well, that’s probably just because the winter solstice has come and gone – either way, you can finally, after all those miles, see the finish line. In a way, it’s a bit of a tease because that checkered flag is still just a dot on the horizon. Except now it finally feels attainable. Which is something it had never been before even though you’ve been doing the leg work for so long.

You may not have even had the confidence that you could do it – I didn’t – but you waded in, blind, one step at a time – one page at a time – and felt the surety of failure, felt the impossibility of the task before you as you began. And for some unknown reason you kept going. For every setback, you worked harder. For every sacrifice, you kept at it. For every day that passed, you became more than you were the day before. The hardest challenges are the ones that take a long time. They’re the ones that you have to commit to seeing through to the end even when you don’t see the results, even when it feels like you’re failing, even when it seems pointless. Because the results will come, the wins will accumulate, and it won’t seem pointless anymore.

The time will passSo many times it’s easy to fall behind or slip-up and think that it’s all over. But you shouldn’t do that. You should not demand absolute perfection. It’s not realistic and it will stop you from getting where you want to go. You’re allowed to make mistakes so long as you don’t quit. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading the dictionary or getting into shape or becoming a vegetarian. No one makes the rules but you. So live the life you want. Take on something big and see it through. You’ll fail a lot along the way, you will be discouraged, you will think you don’t have what it takes.

But you do.

Finishing the race isn’t the hardest part. The hardest part is continuing when all you want to do is quit. The hardest part is suffering a setback and showing up the very next day, the very next instant, the very next chance you get. The hardest part has always been and will always be what you do to keep moving forward when it seems like everything else is going backwards.

So show up. Show up every day. And if one day you don’t – make damn sure you show up the next day.

I have 8 weeks left in my year-long race. 8 weeks and 275 pages to go. I am still behind by 10 pages, but today is the first day that I felt like I’m going to win. 310 days is a long time to feel like a failure, but the tides are turning. The tides are turning indeed.

And when they do, I will be a giant.

Well, feel like one anyways.

Weeks 43-44 Stats

Starting Word: side arm                                 Ending Word: streetwise

Total Pages: 1540/1815                                  Ahead/Behind: -10

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

The New Year Lie

You feel the excitement rising as the clock counts down.

  •  10. Every horrible thing of the past year is soon to be gone.
  •    9.  This is the year that everything is going to change.
  •    8.   Everything is going to be different.
  •    7.   This is your year.
  •    6.    Promotions, relationships, fitness, health – you’ll have it all.
  •    5.    A fresh start.
  •    4.    A clean slate.
  •    3.    A new you.
  •    2.    And it all starts….
  •    1.     Now.Fireworks

Except that it doesn’t. You raise your glass, maybe you find some lips to kiss, or you toss confetti, and when the night ends you fall asleep the same person you were before that clock struck midnight. When you wake up your past is still your past and every horrible, brutal thing you’ve ever had to endure is still with you. Just like last year and the year before that.

So don’t say it’s a new book with unwritten pages or a new beginning or a clean slate. Your life continues as it has been unless you decide that you want to change. After all, it is everything that you have seen, done, experienced, and lived that has brought you here and shaped you into the person you are right now. You can’t erase the past and you shouldn’t pretend that you have. Go ahead and look forward to your future with bright, shining eyes of hope… because you should be doing that every day anyway. Every single day is full of potential, not just at New Year’s. You can’t shut the door on the past year. If it was hard, then you need to work hard to overcome its challenges.

So instead of saying it’s a new start, say today I decided I want to change. Because it isn’t about the difference between 11:59 and 12:01 or 2015 and 2016, it’s about the difference within you. I don’t make resolutions for the New Year. If you want to change something, do it now. Don’t wait. It shouldn’t be about the New Year, it should be about you. If it’s August or April or February or November or any month or day and you decide something isn’t good enough or that you want to be better, then that is the day you begin trying to change.

Most New Year’s resolutions only last a few weeks before petering out. It’s easy to slip up and not go to the gym one day or not write when you’re supposed to or not do whatever it is that you promised you would. And it’s easy for that slip up to become another and another until you throw in the towel because you messed up your perfect year so why continue?.

Continue because it isn’t about a perfect year. Your year will have wins and losses, successes and failures, good times and bad. It is never about perfection. It is about the pursuit of your own greatness. You will fail. But be relentless, every day. You are meant to fail. You are meant to fail until, finally, you succeed.

When people fail their New Year’s resolutions, that’s it. That’s the end. So don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Make life changes. Make them now. You’re allowed to fail in life, just so long as you keep trying.

Mind Over Mushroom Challenge, Day 13: A Blessing & A Blight

I have been called strong-willed. I have been called stubborn. Belligerent. Difficult. Persistent. Tenacious. Headstrong. Bull-headed.

I have been called all of these things (mostly by my mother) – I am a Capricorn after all. While these traits can be both a disadvantage and a blessing, I had expected them to be detrimental to me this time around. On one hand, it is this stubborn streak in me that has lent to my success in multiple challenges, but on the other it also meant that I would have to use that same stubbornness to overcome… my own stubbornness. Basically I’m a dog trying to catch my tail here.

It is my own bull-headedness that has grown my lifelong disgust and refusal to eat mushrooms. And now, I am attempting to break down that steadfast stubbornness so that I overcome this fungi related food aversion. But. It is precisely my innate stubborn persistence to succeed that will help me to do this. Wrap your head around that. Like fighting fire with fire. Except that cliché is always used to say that you can’t fight fire with fire – you just end up with a bigger fire. Only that’s wrong. You can fight fire with fire. It’s a forest fire fighting technique that doesn’t seem to make sense on the surface, but can work.

Right now, I’m putting out the fire.

That’s how it seems. I refuse to get too cocky as I still have the more intense meals to get through yet, but with today’s meal it seems like I’ve broken my food aversion will. It’s not quite success. It’s more of a resigned Welp. Another day, another mushroom. Because I have to eat them every day, I’ve been wearing down that high-strung keep that damn fungus away from me! tendency. My stubbornness to maintain this challenge through to the end seems to be triumphing over my belligerent refusal to eat mushrooms… A blessing and a blight.

Now, a little bit about the actual food from Tortilla meal with mushroomstoday. My meal was… tortilla stuff. Fancy right? It was a tasty meal. I ate the mushrooms in my resigned, mechanical way – neither enjoying them nor overwhelmingly hating them and day 13 came to an anti-climatic end.

Today’s Fungus Feast:

Tortilla Stuff – white button mushrooms, corn tortillas, red, orange and yellow peppers, garlic, white onion, and green enchilada sauce