End of year resolutions

At the end of every calendar year, I like to take some time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished, any goals I failed to meet (and analyze why), and what my goals and intentions for the upcoming year will be.

For me, 2017 was particularly difficult, between the emotional and mental stress of the current administration, changing careers, dropping out of library school, dealing with my dog’s degenerative disease, and trying, through all of that, to make some progress on my house. I know many of my friends from more marginalized groups feel even worse.

Now, with the very real threat of this awful tax bill, a lot of those worries have come back. The bill is terrible for universities and grad students–my partner works at a university and is currently enrolled in graduate classes. I’m now teaching at a community college. If, as many are predicting, the corporate tax breaks create an investment bubble that bursts in 5 or so years, will I still have a job, any job?

There’s no way for me to predict the future. The bill hasn’t been signed into law yet; it still has to go through reconciliation. I’ve let my reps know how I feel about this bill, and will continue to do so. And certainly there are other actions to take, but ultimately, I can’t control what happens here, and I can’t control what might happen to the economy in a few years.

Instead of letting all this anxiety dictate my actions, I’m attempting to be sensible and to focus on the things I can control. Namely, my own actions. This month, as a sort of pre-New Year’s Resolution, I’m concentrating on the following things that sort of fell by the wayside this year: my health and various creative projects. I’ll also be thinking about ways to increase my financial security in the coming years, and setting goals for 2018. But for now, here’s what December’s all about for me.

My Health

Many years ago, I stopped eating processed food and most sugar. But I’m an emotional eater, and those bad habits have crept back over the past few years. Paired with a medication that exacerbates food cravings, I gained quite a bit of weight. I wish I could say it doesn’t bother me, but it does. More than that, though, is the simple fact that eating crap makes me feel like crap. Excess sugar consumption leads to all sorts of terrible things, from diabetes and heart disease to Alzheimer’s. That’s right. Eating too much added sugar can increase your risk for and ability to fight Alzheimer’s. Most processed foods contain added sugar, plus migraine-triggering preservatives, and very little in the way of nutrition.

For the rest of December, I’m going to cut out as much processed food as possible (pretty easy considering this just means I need to cook for myself instead of eating out and avoid Trader Joe’s delicious but deadly snack items), and stick to the WHO’s recommended max daily added sugar intake of 25 grams for women. I’m also going to go back to eating four smaller meals per day instead of three large ones–this is mostly because a steady flow of energy reduces migraine attacks for me.

I hate to spend the money, but I’m also considering investing in a membership at a yoga studio or gym. I can and do use yoga videos at home, but I think even going to a studio once per week would help with form, posture, and maintaining my motivation. If anyone has any recommendations, I’m all ears!

Creative Projects

Here’s the thing: creativity, whether in the form of writing, gardening, or sewing, is essential to my mental health and emotional well being. Making things makes me happy, and I know the things I create make others happy. Writing fiction always gets tough for me as winter sets in, because the limited daylight and cold make me want to hibernate. And that’s okay! I don’t feel like writing right now, so I’m going to give myself a “vacation” this month and allow myself to focus on other creative projects.

I’ve got a few home decor projects in the works, plus a Rey costume that’s half finished. I’m not going to get all of these things done by the end of the year, but I can probably finish the costume and make a set of fancy curtains for my dining room. And if I only get one of those projects done, that’s okay, too!

Sewing is relaxing to me in a way writing isn’t, probably because it’s so much more physical than writing. I like that as I sew, the thing I’m making takes shapes right in front of me. It’s physical and tangible, and in the case of curtains, very useful and pretty to look at.

 

December is also a time to spend with family and friends, and I’m looking forward to doing that, too. (Not to mention…. STAR WARS.)

A brave new world

Last month, I quit my job at the library and dropped out of library school. I want to talk about what happened, and I want to talk about it honestly and fairly, without malice.

I’m not sure I can do that yet, because frankly what happened is shitty and unfair, and because I don’t want my words or actions to harm anyone who still works at the library. And I don’t want you, potential library-user, to feel any sort of weird bad feelings toward the library, because you should absolutely not (which reminds me that a few of my books are a day late…)

So instead of detailing the events that led up to me quitting my job, let me talk about what I’m doing now.

First, I am teaching fiction writing classes at the Community College of Allegheny County, in the community education (non-credit) program. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, but got scared away by endless adjunct tales of woe and the need for affordable health insurance. Thankfully, I’m in a position now where I don’t have to worry about health insurance quite as much, making part-time teaching a possibility.

And I have to say, it feels good to be sharing the thing I most love doing (writing fiction) with people who are excited to learn. My students range in age from around my age to retirees, from judges to hydro geologists, and I am learning as much from them as they are from me, I’m sure. I’m going to give teaching a trial run for a year, and if I find at the end of the year that I still love it, I’m probably going to apply for PhD programs (creative writing PhD in Hawaii? Yes, please) to up my chances of getting a “real” teaching job (and also because I want to write an ecofeminist dissertation on Star Wars, but that’s a tale for another time).

Second, I am working part-time at Riverstone Books, a new bookstore in the North Hills that will open later this week. In addition to working the floor, I’ll be working on the store’s social media as well. Right now the main focus is on getting the store up and running for the grand opening tomorrow, but I’ve got lots of content ideas percolating, and I’m really excited about the store and this opportunity.

Third, I am freelancing, which is something that had to fall by the wayside while I was working full-time and taking classes. So far I’ve had work published in The Millions, Health.com, and Next Pittsburgh. Where will my name pop up next? Who knows! I missed writing nonfiction, so it feels good to dip my toes back into the business of facts.

Journalism has always felt like an odd side appendage I don’t know what to do with—I know I’m not really interested in hardcore investigative reporting, but getting to write about topics I’m passionate about (food! writing! migraines!) for more than my blog is only a good thing.

Fourth, and most importantly, I’m writing more. My writing sessions don’t have to be limited to fifteen- or thirty-minute sprints before I head into the library. My mornings are open, so I can write for one hour. Two hours. Even three hours. I am still giddy with delight at this bounty of time. So I am shopping my short story collection, revising a small collection of flash fiction, and plotting a serial novel for NaNoWriMo next month.

What’s more, my partner’s fears that I would just play Pokemon Go for eight hours a day if I quit my job have not come true! I still only play for a very moderate average of one hour a day!

This is all still new, and still a little scary, but ultimately, I’m hopeful that good things will come of this brave new world.

My head hurts too much for new words, so here are some words of advice about writing

a picture of a thistle

Awhile ago I read Colum McCann’s Letters to a Young Writer. I enjoy McCann, but he’s a little bit outside my genre wheelhouse, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. It was amazing. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

You don’t speak for people, but with people. You are here to rip open the accepted world and create it anew. Often a writer will not know the true reason for writing until long after the work is finished. It is when she gives it to others that its purpose becomes apparent.

spring flowers at phipp's

Just keep your arse in the chair. Arse in the chair. Arse in the chair. Stare the blank page down.

Sometimes getting started is the hardest thing, but it’s the most important. You get nowhere if you don’t start. There’s a metaphor about how writing is like tending a garden (hence the flower pictures), but my head hurts too much to tease it out. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.