State of the Sushi, Pre-NaNo 2017

Wow, how on Earth is August almost over? I swear I was just cursing Rump’s position in the White House… wait. I’m still doing that. Then how has so much time passed? I don’t know, but here’s a general update on what has been going on in my life, partially swiped from my phone on my way home from the eclipse.

tl;dr Things are good overall (minus the world being what it is right now) and no really how on Earth is Nano so close? Cue screaming.

Work. This is the part that people care about when they ask what’s new. But I got a new full-time job! One where I have to work in an office and everything! I started in mid-July and like it so far. It’s a very small company with only two other people working full-time (and that includes the founder), and the environment is casual, so it’s a good fit overall so far. I’m still doing occasional freelance work, but I am not working 60-hour weeks. I do find myself doing a lot of the freelance work on weekends, which can be exhausting and which cuts into the time spent doing well, everything else. I’m definitely giving up the extra work in November because I have to sleep sometime. (Trust me. I’ve done 300k while working full-time and the result is not pretty in any way.)

NaNo. Cue my freaking out over how NaNo is two months away. NaNo stuff deserves its own post, but the short version is I won Camp NaNo in April and July, have more ideas for my third drafts, and started fundraising for this year’s Night of Writing Dangerously. (That’s a link to my fundraising page if you’re so inclined.) I’m also updating Wikiwrimo in preparation for the site relaunch, and there is a lot to update and not much time to do it. Hey, at least I finished the biggest project early–2016 region and ML updates.

Non-NaNo writing. Hoooo boy, I definitely haven’t done much of this. Even my paper journal has suffered, which is a problem when I have more going on and rely on the journal as stress relief. Unfortunately there’s not much I can do to use my time more efficiently here.

Reading. I reached my 2017 goal of 100 books read just before starting the new job and it’s a good thing I did. My listening has declined only a little since starting the new job, but my reading has taken a huge hit. To give you an idea, I didn’t finish reading an entire book for two weeks after starting the new job. Considering my fiction TBR list is longer and I have a really hard time listening to nonfiction, this is a problem.

Running. This one took a hit for a few weeks after starting the new job. Once I got a running pack, I started running to work a few days a week. Three miles, only a few minutes longer to run than to take the bus, and a shower in the building? Yes, please. Unintended consequences of run commuting: I use the work shower almost as much as I use the shower at home, and thanks to being out of town for the eclipse there was a space of over a week where I didn’t use my home shower at all. Whoops.

Travel. I’ve been to a few new places this year: Asheville, NC (for a VIP beer tour at New Belgium), Athens, GA (okay, this isn’t new, but I hadn’t been there in years, so I’m counting it), and Charleston, SC (for the eclipse). I got to see almost all of the partial eclipse, but a storm and clouds rolled in just as totality was about to happen. Even funnier: this was at an atheist convention. I’m also planning to go to San Francisco for NOWD in November and nudge nudge my fundraising link is here.

Social. Hahahahaha. I went to Momocon and a fountain pen social group sometime in the spring but besides that I haven’t been too great at socializing.

Anything else? I think that covers the big stuff, but ask away!

Creating My Own Social Life

I’ve previously discussed how hard it is to make friends as an adult, and I’ve even asked the Internet for advice on making friends as an adult. Besides the usual “how?”, there are a couple of challenges in making friends as an adult: one, I have to get up, get dressed and leave the house, which can be hard to do when it’s cold outside and I might be walking to my destination. And two, some of these meetup groups are established groups where everyone knows each other, which is one of my major sources of social anxiety.

Let’s do something about this. I made a declaration on Twitter last month:

That’s roughly once every two weeks. I can manage that, right? That still gives me every other weekend to be lazy or do things that other people initiate.

So what counts? A social event meets the conditions of the declaration if it meets at least one of the following conditions:

  • I attend a meetup or event where social interaction is a primary focus. This can include (but is not limited to) meetups for anything from board games to science, group running events, and more. Going to events like festivals or concerts where social interaction is nice but not essential does not count unless the second condition is met. Howerer, I may make an exception if I find myself socializing with someone else at the event beyond small talk.
  • I invite them (and not the other way around) or attend alone. I added this condition because I am horrible at inviting people to do things with me. This is in part because I don’t have a car and many of my local friends live in the suburbs, so impromptu get-togethers are less likely to happen.

There’s a lot of room for what ifs and figuring out if something counts under these conditions. What if someone invites me to something I was going to go to anyway? What if I like a meetup group so much that it finds its way to my regular social calendar? What about NaNoWriMo events? I don’t have solid answers to the first two questions yet; if they come up, I’ll figure out an answer then. As for NaNo events and write-ins, I probably won’t count them, but that could change. Besides, I’m usually more social than usual during NaNo’s main event season. Funny how that works.

I’ve completed this challenge for April (and for March as well, come to think of it). Among other things, I invited a friend to an author event and chatted with people for awhile after a free yoga event. I’ve also attended social events where I didn’t do the inviting. As for May, I’m not sure what I’m going to yet, but there are a few game groups nearby I haven’t checked out yet and plenty of stuff happening in this city. I’ll figure out something.

Anyone else want in on this challenge?

Thirty

Well, here we are. Thirty years ago I entered this world. My parents had no idea what they were getting into.

I was going to write some kind of deep post on ambition and existence, but I got all my freakouts over turning thirty out of the way before turning 29 last year, so there’s not much use in repeating that. Just think, in a few years the infamous midlife crisis is going to happen, so you may get to read even more of the same! Won’t that be exciting? (Not really.)

Cheers, y’all. Here’s to another thirty years (and beyond!) of making the world suck less.

My First Half Marathon

One of the many things on my bucket list is to run a marathon. I’m not alone in this respect; many people list this as a bucket list item, but very few actually go on to do it. But when I started taking running seriously, I started realizing this goal could eventually become a reality. Then I started doing some work on a website devoted to half marathons, and come on, working on a half marathon website was kind of silly when I had never actually run one.

So I signed up for the Jeff Galloway 13.1 Half Marathon, a walker-friendly half marathon right here in Atlanta. Last Sunday morning, I found myself willingly standing in the cold, bundled up and waiting to run thirteen miles outdoors in December. Hey, it sounded like a good idea back in (much warmer) May when I signed up. Continue reading

State of the Sushi, June 2016

So I bet you’re wondering: what on earth have I been up to lately? If you guessed “an awful lot of things that aren’t writing”, you would be correct. Add in the fact that I’ve had only one weekend free of social plans since mid-April, and I am so ready for some kind of break.

Since 2016 is almost halfway over and I was going to write a life update post anyway, let’s take a look at my original goals for this year and see how I’ve been faring on those goals.

(Fun fact: I originally wrote this post last Friday morning, when I had no plans that weekend. That changed by noon, when an impromptu trip to Washington D.C.–yes, over nine hours from Atlanta–started to brew. Well, that escalated quickly.)

Read 250 books. While I’m technically on track for this goal after taking twelve months into consideration, once we take out October and November, I’m already behind on my book goal despite already reading 117 books so far this year. Yes, I realize this is like whining about being behind on NaNo with a 300k word goal, but at least I’m aware of my whining. This is particularly concerning at the moment not just because of the number (although I still have plenty of BSC books to read and catch up on) but because of my foot-high pile of books to read with deadlines. I currently have six books checked out, as well as one more at the library awaiting pickup today. That stack is about a foot high and all due back in the next month, and since most of these requests are wildly popular, someone else is on the hold list behind me and I can’t just renew the book. This is where some hypothetical weekend free of plans comes in. Read all the things!

Write 500k words. Um, about that… The truth is I haven’t done as much writing as I had anticipated so far this year. My original plan was to write 250,000 words in November, with the other 250k coming from 25k per month for ten months. This gives me some wiggle room, especially with my self-imposed break from writing in February. But considering I’ve reached 25k only twice all year long, and those months were a struggle, I’m still pretty behind on this goal. Fortunately I have plenty to write about in June, both in my paper journal and in here. See, having a social life does help sometimes! (As long as you can write about it later.) While I worked on Wikiwrimo for Camp NaNoWriMo and added 50,000 more characters to the wiki, I’m not sure what to work on for July camp.

Continue running/staying in shape. Okay, so I haven’t been working out all the time, and there are definitely some weeks where I’ve fallen off the running wagon, especially with summer making its way to the south. (I was working up a sweat walking to the coffee shop where I’m writing this. It’s 9am on June 3. That’s not cool, weather. Literally.) I’ve done a 5-miler, an obstacle course 5K, and two regular 5K races so far this year and it’s only June. I even finished third in my age bracket for a couple of those runs and did a 5k under 30 minutes (29m48.8s)! I also registered for my very first half marathon in December, something that really should have happened sooner considering one of my work clients is a running website. The real challenge will be training for that half marathon in November on top of writing 250k, especially with three of my November weekends already booked five months before NaNo. Gulp.

Stay employed. Decrease my debt. Check! It’s a good thing I did include these. You can never be too sure, especially being between clients early on in the year. But for the moment I’m pretty confident in maintaining these goals.

Go back to the Night of Writing Dangerously. Barring any major money issues, I’m still planning to attend NaNoWriMo’s Night of Writing Dangerously this year. It’ll be my 15th NaNo! What better way to celebrate than with a bunch of fancily dressed writers and laptops in San Francisco?

Travel somewhere new. Check! I technically traveled somewhere new with Trail Magic, which counts. But then I went to Washington D.C. on a whim last week, which definitely counts.

Take a class of some kind? Be awesome? I haven’t taken a class despite my desire to do so. As for being awesome, well…

So what else have I been up to? This is one of those questions where you know everything you want to say in response and then answer with “not much” when finally asked. I won Camp NaNoWriMo with a last-minute rush to the finish line. I’m also planning on doing Camp NaNoWriMo in July but have no idea what to work on yet. I showed one of my past college professor how Facebook worked. I went on an impromptu trip to Washington D.C. with a friend last weekend. I also attended Momocon for the first time thanks to a friend with an extra pass. Despite not being a super anime or comic nerd, I still enjoyed myself. (And @tiakall won a game! True story: we went to check out the gaming area and next thing we knew, we heard her name announced… by a Wrimo we both knew.) A lot has been happening and I’m barely keeping up with it all. That’s how life goes sometimes, right?

Up sometime in the near future: What I’ve been reading over the past month or so.

Trail Magic 2016

One of my friends hiked the full Appalachian Trail in 2013 and has been doing trail magic (kindness with no expectation of anything in return on the trail) for a weekend ever since. He’s tried to get me to come along in the past, but I always had plans that weekend and couldn’t go. That changed this year, so I packed my stuff and we set up camp and magic at Dicks Creek Gap, in northeast Georgia near Hiawassee.

Dicks Creek Gap sign

Dicks Creek Gap is about a week into the northbound trail experience, so we were meeting some of the hikers who had left on the early side of the traditional departure date. For many hikers, this is also their first break from hiking. Quite a few of them were planning to take zeros the next day to resupply in town and avoid the predicted rain for Sunday.

We arrived on Saturday morning and had plenty of food on hand for the hikers: grab-and-go items like bananas, oranges, honey buns, Blast’s chocolate bar stuff that is somewhat healthy yet tastes very unhealthy and delicious, assorted candies, and a few other things I’m not thinking of. Plenty of sodas, beers, and bottled water stocked the coolers. Make-your-own chicken and veggie kabobs and salad made up the lunch and dinner food. Breakfast burritos and pancakes happened in the morning (with beercakes on Monday), all on MacGyver’s barrel grill. Both nights concluded with a hobo campfire and roasting marshmallows on the grill, along with lots of talk about materials that went over my head since my chemistry knowledge ends at high school chemistry. We made smores out of Thin Mints on Sunday night, which you should do immediately if you like Thin Mints and marshmallows.

MacGyver brought a bluetooth boom box, and since the area had no mobile connection, we were limited to music on our phone. And since I was the only person with more than a few songs on their phone, I got to subject everyone to a selection of my musical tastes. This also meant listening to the occasional Hamilton track. I may or may not have skipped “It’s Quiet Uptown” to save myself from crying in front of everyone. This also meant I couldn’t take too many pictures because the music stopped whenever my phone was more than a few feet away from the boom box.

Blast brought a big charger so hikers could recharge their devices, along with a projector and sheet for movies after the sun set. No one else stayed with us on Saturday night, so we watched 180º South, a documentary about climbing a mountain in Patagonia and probably some stuff about surfing too. (Not kidding there–there were so many random shots of this old guy surfing.) And on Saturday night, Soup and Daniel stayed with us and we watched Easy A.

We also brought a lot of games and played several of them with various groups of hikers. Two rounds of Cards Against Humanity happened, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. We also played some Spyfall, and I was never the spy. Most of the entertainment was simply sitting around and talking about everything and anything.

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We woke up to rain on Sunday morning and were tempted to pack up and leave, even if that meant packing everything up in the rain. But we stuck it out, and I’m glad we did; the weather cleared up for the rest of the trip, and Blast, MacGyver, and I wound up staying an extra day, both to get rid of all the food and to stay in the mountains a little longer. It involved a ten-minute trip down the road for me to change a Monday appointment with Comcast, but staying the extra day was worth that to me. (Even if they’re now not coming over until Friday and the intermittent Internet problems have gotten worse. But that’s another story.)

On Sunday evening Blast, MacGyver, and I corrected the fact that we were on the trail and hadn’t hiked any of it, so we hiked a mile or two up the mountain, taking in the view before getting to a campground. One of the hikers we met was camped there, so we stopped and chatted with him for awhile before heading back down.

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Another idea that came out of the weekend: a hiker version of Cards Against Humanity. Black cards like “How am I upholding my trail reputation?” and white cards like “Pink blazing” and “23 hikers in a U-Haul”. There would also be a PCT conversion kit, like the Canadian conversion kit for the regular game. This is going to happen.

But now I’m home, showered, and enjoying flush toilets and running water again. (Not enjoying my intermittent Internet connection, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Sarah, Jetta the black lab, Astro, Soup, Daniel, Hans, B Hiker, and everyone else we met this weekend (sorry, I’m bad at learning lots of names at once), meeting you was a lot fo fun and I hope your thru-hike is everything you wanted to get out of the experience. And who knows, maybe I’ll be able to join your ranks in a few years.

Am I stuck in a life rut?

When I was thinking up my goals for 2016, I couldn’t help but notice how similar the goals were to my 2015 goal list. This is partly intentional: I want to continue reading and writing and running and who knows what else. While these are all admirable goals, one thing that crossed my mind was whether I was stuck in a rut.

The case for it is clear. My typical day looks like this: get up, eat breakfast, do work, grab lunch, more work, eat dinner, do whatever for the evening, shower, bed. Almost the same thing, day after day, with little variation during the week. Occasionally I go to a write-in during NaNo or a board game group or an evening run when the weather isn’t miserable. The weekends are reserved for recuperating from the week of work: more focused writing, catching up on reading, cleaning, and whatever else comes up, then getting bored on Sunday night because how can I relax even more. It’s easy to do this, week in, week out.

Keeping up the same weekly routine makes getting stuck in a rut even easier, doing the same things over and over until they become second nature and then, well, not do much else. Even between jobs, I maintained a routine similar to the one mentioned above, but more than that, I’ve been making habits out of some things. I’ve been making reading a habit over the past couple of years, and considering I read zero books in 2013 (yes, zero), this is one habit I’m rather proud of now. I’m trying, time and time again, to make writing a habit that I don’t have to think about before doing. And now I’m trying to make running a habit, although this habit may not stick through the winter.

But now what? I find myself thinking on a regular basis. I pride myself on being interested in many things, and even though that interest list isn’t quite as extensive as some people I know, there’s still a decent amount of variety. There are also many other things I’d love to dabble in but haven’t for one reason or another: knitting (although I’ve probably forgotten how to knit), programming, exploring new places, traveling, dabbling in various historical eras and civilizations, watching the many well-known movies I’ve never watched, expanding my social circles,… and the list goes on and on.

While some of these things are dependencies (can’t travel without the money to do so, for instance), I can do many of these items on their own. I don’t need any extra resources beyond time and energy to improve my programming skills, nor do I need to spend much money to get back into knitting. Unfortunately, none of these things can be combined as an attempt at multitasking. (Knitting and movies can in theory, but I’ve tried. I stopped knitting ten minutes into the movie.)

In the grand scheme of the universe, my life isn’t even a blip on the radar. Life is short, so I’m going to get out of this rut and make the most of it. Let’s do more.

Music and Its Strange Associations

Music is a powerful thing, and its effect on the brain has been studied extensively. It’s easy to associate some songs with life experiences, connecting romantic songs to a romantic partner, singalong-worthy songs to road trips, and even songs with a location to that location. But music is powerful enough to transcend these associations, making some music-life connections stranger than ever. Here are a few of those associations.

“I Try” by Macy Gray: When I was a kid, I used my tape player to record my favorite songs on the radio, then carry the tape and my tape player everywhere to listen to those songs. By March 2000, “I Try” was constantly playing on the radio and I had adopted the song as a favorite. It was also spelling bee season, and March meant competing at the regional bee for a chance to go to the national bee in Washington, DC. Despite all my best efforts, I placed fifth and left very upset because of the easy word I missed. Back in the car, I drowned myself in the music instead of talking to my parents. The first song to play? “I Try”. And I did try, even tried my hardest. And that’s all I can do.

The Dresden Dolls’ self-titled album: This one always gets an interesting reaction when I explain the association with number theory, a field of math that’s about special numbers like primes and perfect numbers. But toward the end of that semester, I was struggling. We were moving quickly to complete the course material and I didn’t understand a lot of the material that was on the third and final test before the final exam. Elliptic curves, cryptography, all fascinating materials, all reviewed so quickly that I didn’t understand it the first time or the second time or even the third time. Number theory was the last of my exams that semester, and I put all my extra energy into studying for that exam, usually with some kind of music in the background. One album that stands out was the Dresden Dolls’ self-titled album. Think dark cabaret with some rock mixed in–lots of loud music designed to strike you right in the heart and brain. And strike me in the heart and brain it did–every time I cracked open my number theory notes, “Coin-Operated Boy” played in my head even when I was listening to something more soothing that I don’t remember now. When I opened the envelope containing the number theory final exam, “Girl Anachronism” played in my head, It stayed there through the exam, making my effort at concentrating a difficult one. I still made an A- in the class. Thank you, past self.

“Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey: My last semester of college had finally arrived. Despite my possibly-poor life choice of taking a course overload and finishing a second major, the world economy crashing left and right with no end in sight, and a breakup with a guy I had been dating for almost a year, I was still determined to end college on a high note. The course load meant a lot of time at my library study carrel. Stack two, next to the literature and humanities books I was using for my French thesis. Books and piles of papers everywhere around the carrel, making me thank any gods out there that this was my reserved carrel. And of course wifi. Thanks to the wifi, I spent a lot of time listening to various Pandora stations while studying, often shuffling all my Pandora stations for maximum shuffle effect. “Don’t Stop Believing” was one of those songs that came up regularly. And if there was one thing I was determined to do, it was to never stop believing in what I could do. Sure, I was practically living in the library, trying not to cry at the drop of a hat. (I did nearly cry in front of my math advisor once a few weeks after that breakup, but that’s neither here nor there.) And sure, I was honestly not sure how to make it through the end of the semester without some voodoo and a few more hours in a day. Because when “Don’t Stop Believing” came on, none of that mattered. I was going to get through somehow. Streetlights, people. This song also led to my longest NaNo novel to date–my third 2010 NaNo novel, which pushed my total word count over 300k. (Semirelated: Another song that came up regularly was A Fine Frenzy’s “Almost Lover”, which was definitely appropriate for the time.)

“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley: I visited San Francisco for the first time in November 2011. It was the trip of a lifetime: visiting NaNoWriMo HQ, meeting Wrimos from all over the world… oh yeah, and exploring this brand new city, even if I only had the money to stay for a weekend. I stayed in a hostel near Union Square and spent Sunday morning wandering around the area near Union Square. The ice skating rink had been set up. If I had the money to spare, I might have gone ice skating. I didn’t have the money, so I leaned on a railing outside the skating rink and lost myself in thought for awhile while “The Boys of Summer” played. Did I have to go back to Georgia? Couldn’t I just stay in San Francisco forever, stay with my new Night of Writing Dangerously friends and NaNoWriMo people, stay in this part of the world where tech ads were normal and the weather was perfect, if a little drizzly later in the afternoon? All those years of noveling and getting to know other writers and helping out newbies and feeling like I was part of something that mattered, all that was building up to a trip home. And by that point, nothing was stopping the tears. My seat on the flight back to Atlanta included a radio station. I plugged in my headphones and chose an 80s station. The song was nearly over, but the next song started up immediately. As “The Boys of Summer” played and the plane prepared for takeoff, I looked out the window and sobbed my eyes out. Sometimes music leaves a trail to your heart, and sometimes it helps you find the heart you left behind. This time it did both.

Adventures in Anxiety, Part Three: What If?

Missed the other posts in this series? Check out Part One and Part Two.

Most people (possibly including you) would never guess that somewhere underneath the cool exterior lies a bundle of worries. I can leave the house without having a panic attack, I can make small talk with strangers, and I’ve made speeches in front of large audiences with just a few jitters.

While some of my anxieties are expected, others manifest themselves in ways few people would expect. Continue reading

Adventures in Anxiety, Part Two: Getting Help

Did you miss Part One? Read Part One here.

My first round of therapy happened during my last year of college. As a kid, I would try to befriend the new kid before all the other established social groups could. While many social groups were established things, I would wander from friend group to friend group, eating with them at lunch and talking to them in class but rarely getting invited to birthday parties or even to hang out after my many extracurriculars. In high school most of the friends I did hang out with on a regular basis were older than me, and by junior year most of them had graduated, leaving me in the socially awkward dust.

This behavior continued through college, and by fall of senior year my emotions had caught up. I talked about this with a couple of good friends and finally decided to take advantage of the mental health services on campus. I sat down, we talked for a few minutes, and when we started talking about friend groups and being social, I burst into tears while trying to make sense of what was going on my brain.

That was the real problem: I had no idea what I wanted to get out of these sessions, but whatever it was, I didn’t want to go through these tearful appointments and struggling to figure everything out while sitting on a couch. Sure, I usually felt better after these sessions, but some of the emotions weighed on me for a few hours afterward. Writing would be better, not that I had much time for my paper journal. A few weeks later, I stopped going altogether after forgetting to reschedule a session.

I was much more prepared for the second round of therapy. It was early 2013, and the guy I had been seeing for the past couple of months had called it off. He was the first guy I had dated since graduating from college several years before (coincidentally, around the same time as Therapy, Round One). He pointed out that I was really bad at deciding things, like where to eat or what to do for the evening. I explained how I was really bad at making decisions and initiating things. He said I needed therapy.

He wasn’t wrong. A few weeks later I did research and walked into my first therapy session.

My therapist got straight to business, even giving me homework after each session. My early assignments included observing my interactions with others and taking note of what my body does. This is stupid, I kept telling myself. Why should I be paying attention to things like my breathing and heart rate and headache? I already worry enough about aches and pains. Is adding more stuff to pay attention to even necessary?

As a result, I wouldn’t put much effort into these assignments, thus disappointing my therapist. Months passed, as did many tearful sessions. Something happened as the time went by, though. The tearful sessions decreased in number and frequency. I started noticing things: the perma-headache that liked to hang around longer than necessary, the feeling of wanting to cry all the time that often accompanied the headache, the way I took deep breaths to counter the tightness in my chest.

Every week my therapist asked me to fill out a questionnaire rating how I did on certain things. The specific items on the questionnaire were topics I expressed interest in improving: making decisions, making plans, initiating things with others. Rating myself on the questionnaire was the hardest thing I did some weeks. What was a four? What about a five? What if I was somewhere in between–what rating would that get? And what kind of scale was this, anyway–linear? Logarithmic? I tried to maintain a consistent scale in my head, but some weeks I failed at this miserably.

A couple of things happened as time went by. One, my self-rated assessments did improve to the point where sometime the following summer, I ran out of things to talk about without going over the same stuff over and over. And two, I finally saw the meaning of all those exercises my therapist gave me in the beginning and therefore was ready to cope with them on my own.

I was ready to take on my worries with these newly developed skills. And if I ever needed to, I could always come back.

P.S. Part Three is up. Read it here.