The Pandemic Life

The line “May you live in interesting times” has never felt like such a curse.

I was furloughed from my day job on the first week of April. I’m not alone in this regard: about a quarter of my company was furloughed or simply laid off. In this situation, I’m very fortunate: I already had a significant amount in savings, I have little debt, my employer filed for unemployment on my behalf, and they’re paying for my health insurance during the furlough period. Combined with my freelance work and the lack of things to spend money on at the moment*, I’m actually saving money while on unemployment, although I have scaled back the extra debt payment while letting this situation play out.

To reiterate, as I have when people ask if I’m okay (hi Mom): I’m one of the lucky ones. I won’t have to choose between my health or my rent. I won’t have to worry about making less money with fewer customers after returning to work. If I were called back to work (and it’s a good question, considering my employer makes software for a heavily affected industry), I could work remotely until it’s safer to go in the office again. My roommate works remotely and can stay at home. We’re not in any high risk groups, and we don’t have kids or elderly relatives in our home.

Not everyone has that peace of mind. Past Me wouldn’t have been. If this pandemic had happened five years ago, or even three years ago, I would have been screwed. Now this is the break I’ve craved for a long time–unpaid, but a break nonetheless. What have I done with it?

For Camp NaNoWriMo, I updated all the NaNoWriMo regions in Wikiwrimo with the 2019 stats, MLs, and new forum links. I continued doing my freelance work. I read Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster series and grew a hate-on for Doro. I participated in remote Pokemon Go tournaments (and regionals!) since the requirement to battle remotely was lowered significantly. I updated my resume just in case.

Making a list of goals for May is hard because there’s no certain deadline for the future. How much should I try to get done? It feels like I have all the time in the world right now, but I also have a lot of items on the back burner that require significant effort (rewriting a novel, for instance), and I don’t want to get halfway through those and then return to work, losing more of my spare time. The house is messier than usual, and I’ve been meaning to devote some time to cleaning but haven’t yet.

Since my state is making national news for reopening things far sooner than they should, I’m staying put. The first few weeks were great (no social obligations! slowing down!), but now the grind is starting to sink in. Venturing to the coffee shop down the street for a productive change of scenery is a pipe dream now. A walk through the neighborhood is a novelty.

Oh, and the person formerly known as boycritter and I broke up at the end of the month. We both knew from the start that he was finishing grad school and likely wouldn’t stay here, but we’d figure that out when the time came–if we made it that far. The time came, along with COVID-19, which gave us a chance to test the upcoming long-distance relationship. It hurts, but it makes sense to cut things off now than to hold on and let it die a slow death post-move. But the coronavirus magnifies everything, so an already-sucky situation is now simultaneous the worst thing ever and a small relief.

That’s why I’m scribbling here now. Despite going in about five different directions from my original intent, it makes progress toward one of my small goals for this month: write two blog posts. Hopefully this small butt-kick will get me going again.

Stay healthy, dear internets, and I’ll talk to you soon.

*Seriously: The only items on my April credit card statement (excluding rent, debt payment, IRA contributions, and utilities) were groceries, meds, internet, web hosting, Patreon, and a monthly NaNoWriMo donation.

Life in the Age of COVID-19

I reread my last post to remind myself of when I last updated, and this part still rings true:

Some days I’m okay. Other days, when I’m not okay, I’m very not okay. And I’m not sure how to deal with that.

Because since my last post, a lot has happened. More than usual, that is.

The past two and a half weeks alone have felt like the time since my last post, where worlds have turned upside down.

Minus the typical worries of a pandemic in the age of global connectedness (which is no small thing!), I’m doing better than expected. I’ve been constantly on the go for a long time, something you might have noticed from the sporadic updates, working a job and a half, gaining more of an offline social life, and losing time to pursue my more solitary hobbies. I craved a chance to slow down and pursue all the reading and writing and NaNo foruming I had been missing, all the connection that I had been craving for months and even years.

Then my wish was granted, corrupt-a-wish style… with a global pandemic. Whee.

Now, I’m forced to slow down. Social activities outside the house are going remote or stopping altogether. The Pokemon Go events in the game, including the tournaments, have been delayed or going remote. I had one final get-together with friends on Pi Day, in those uncertain days where “social distancing” creeped into our vernacular and people stocked up on toilet paper and frankly, everyone was scared of what would come next. By Pi Day, Tom Hanks had announced his coronavirus, most major sports had suspended their season, travel limits began, and my inbox filled with business emails discussing what they were doing about the coronavirus.

Oh, and boycritter asked me if it was a good idea to go ahead with the Pi Day party. We went ahead with it since it was a small gathering in my home and I wouldn’t see a lot of them for awhile.

While my life has changed because of the global pandemic, it hasn’t changed as drastically as the lives of other people I know. I’m working remotely, but nothing else has changed about my job. (Not even the remote nature–the people I work with most are spread in four different time zones and I’ve worked remotely before, so I’m familiar with Slack and Webex calls and screen sharing and the “Hey, can you hear me?” that always comes with the first few minutes of a call.) Even though my home desk is small and I can’t fit my work computer, my home computer, and whatever else I might want on there, I’m still doing okay.

If anything, I’m doing far better than expected. I’ve been working remotely for two weeks, so I’ve regained four hours a week from my commute. I can use my lunch break to do chores or a round of Pokemon Go Battle League, now that you don’t have to walk to battle. This gives me more time to do client work in the evenings after my regular job and even some extra time to goof around online and talk to people and simply relax. I’ve moved one of my Cookie Clicker instances to my computer, and my roommate reminded me of Universal Paperclips. Since Pokemon Go lets you battle remotely with Good Friends now (the lowest friend level, gained after one interaction), remote tournaments grew in popularity and I joined two–one for my local community whose in-person counterpart was cancelled, and one on another server. I read a book while spending last weekend with the boycritter (and doing some raids from his car at parking-friendly raid spots), right before my city implemented a stay-at-home order through April 7. And since exercise is still allowed, I’ve squeezed in a couple of walks around the neighborhood, doing my best to avoid more crowded areas.

But all this spare time reminds me of all the things I’ve left behind over the past couple of years and have wanted to reclaim. I’m behind on my reading target for this year. I’ve barely written. I still haven’t touched Wikiwrimo or made an attack plan for Camp NaNoWriMo, and my to-do list there is growing faster than my to-read list and everything feels like so much. I wanted extra time to relax and work on other projects, and now I get that time, but with an undesired twist.

Because somewhere under my okay state, there’s a longing for what could have been. I was dreaming of a vacation after some big work projects wrapped up. Several non-local friends had plans to visit in the next few weeks. I was going to see Hamilton again. Maybe my vacation could include the Philadelphia Safari Zone. Now everything is up in the air, and no one knows when things will be normal again… or if they will be.

The State of the Sushi, Q1 2020

One day I’ll remember to update this site more regularly. Now is not that time.

Every year over the past few years I’ve written about some sort of crash around NaNo time and after NaNo. If you’ve followed me online or read my last few posts here after NaNo (let’s face it, there arent that many), then you’ll know the theme. I get so busy before NaNo for a variety of reasons and I’m ready to crash after the month is over.

This year was no exception, but at least an order of magnitude worse. Where to start? Oh boy.

Some days I’m okay. Other days, when I’m not okay, I’m very not okay. And I’m not sure how to deal with that.

Because since my last post, a lot has happened. More than usual, that is.

Writing 100,000 words for NaNoWriMo this year was my minimum goal, my attempt at taking it easy. But every year I’ve set that goal, I’ve always had the secret goal of wanting even more and constantly feeling behind even when I’m technically on track for 100k. The constant inability to concentrate on writing when I finally had time to write. Writing fifteen words, then switching from Twitter to the NaNo forums to Discord to Gchat and barely getting anything done in any of those places because I didn’t want to lose an hour to any of those places, and then finding my way back to my novel.

Write fifteen more words. Lather, rinse, repeat for the better part of a month. I had my slowest day one in almost a decade and my second-lowest six-digit year. In fact, I wrote 200 more words than my previous lowest six-digit year just so this year wouldn’t be the lowest six-digit year.

There were good times. When I finally started using my lunch break to write, having that tight deadline to write over the course of thirty minutes netted me an extra 2000 to 2500 words.

But I also felt more isolated from the NaNo community and had zero time to myself since the beginning of October. All I wanted was a break to do nothing for a little bit, and I still wasn’t getting it. Quite the opposite, in fact: I kept on trucking and juggling the rest of my life while writing a novel as well, with a trip planned in December that I did not anticipate to be relaxing. Oh, and diving back into my freelance work in December.

Ohhhh and the boycritter. Yes, he’s a new (non-NaNo) acquisition. Because when I found out the former crushperson was interested in someone else, I was hurt. Not because I expected we would end up together, but because sometimes those feelings linger, even after putting them in a box and shoving that box under the bed and dealing with it (or trying to).

So I spent a few days moping, as you do. And then I signed up for online dating again for shits and giggles instead of doing the work I was planning to do that evening.

I didn’t mean for anything to happen. I’d just answer some of those match questions, see who was out there, and then never use it again until I was bored. I even messaged a person or two for shits and giggles, expecting absolutely nothing except maybe a band-aid and self-reassurance that I was actually doing something about my feelings.

Then one of those people replied. We kept talking and I stayed up too late and we decided to meet up the following day for dinner at a local food hall. And then we didn’t part ways until Sunday night.

We’re still together and not tired of each other yet; if you follow me elsewhere online, he’s the person known as Boycritter.

Now that so much has changed over the past few months and I still haven’t fully recovered, I know I won’t fully recover from all these things, for better or for worse. So for now I’ve settled for trying to find a new normal, whatever that might mean. I’m trying to figure out how to balance work and more work and the boycritter and having even more of a social life than ever and maintaining Wikiwrimo and doing some of my own writing and keeping the house cleaner than dump and maybe, just maybe, updating this dang site.

Right now doing it all feels like way too much.

“Well, don’t do it all,” you might say. And I’m trying. I’ve been piecing this post together over lunch breaks and putting together a plan to update all the Wikiwrimo stuff over lunch breaks. That way I won’t have to budget as much time from my non-work life to do this.

That’s why, like last year, my 2020 goals are few in number.

  • Read 50 books
  • Write 100,000 words and win NaNoWriMo
  • Become debt-free

That last bullet point is why I’m not quitting my freelance work yet. Assuming I continue paying at my current rate and no major disasters or changes arise, I’ll make my last student loan payment in March. Then I can throw the rest of that extra money at my old tax debt, which should disappear by the end of this year. Once everything is paid off, I’ll re-evaluate my situation.

For now? I’m going to throw myself headfirst into everything and see what happens.

The State of the Sushi, Pre-NaNo 2019

This post has been sitting, mostly finished, in my drafts for several weeks, to the point where I’ve had to edit things for accuracy’s sake. At this point I may as well post it.

So how am I doing anyway?

Work Stuff

I’m still at the job I started in March, so even though I’m still the newest person on the team, I can’t call myself new there anymore since I survived a full release cycle and am in the middle of another one. There are still dogs and snacks everywhere, including several new tiny puppies who come in occasionally with their humans. There are photos up on my Twitter whenever a new doggo comes in because let’s face it, they’re all cute.

Sure, there are some annoying parts, some of which come from my background in self-employment and startups, where I could always go straight to the company founder if I needed information or had a complaint. Now there are departments, and sometimes one department that sounds like it can do the thing I need actually doesn’t, and sometimes I get sent back to the first person I asked who said to ask someone else, and I have to work with completely different departments. Ah, corporate life.

My main complaint at the moment is my lack of time to do much else. I’m still doing my freelance work on top of my regular job, with a goal of paying off all my debt by the end of next year. Assuming no major financial emergencies, this is more than doable, and I could accomplish this even sooner if I shove more extra money toward that goal. (Let’s face it. Besides my coffee shop habit–which always goes up during NaNo–I don’t spend too much on other things besides occasionally eating out with friends or the occasional Uber/Lyft to places.)

But the lack of time complaint bleeds into other areas of my life, so let’s keep it here for now.

Goal Stuff

As frustrating as it is for me, I intentionally set no goals for 2019 beyond reading 50 books. Just as I stated last time, I have no idea if I’m a better person than this time last year, or in 2016, or even in 2009. In my last post I commented that I was overall less stressed than I was in the past. This isn’t necessarily true, but now I think it’s for different reasons. Now most of my stress stems from my own social and personal issues.

I’m killing my book goal, already well past my 2019 goal of 50 books, but I don’t plan on upping the goal this year. My original intention of not setting any goals was to put less pressure on myself, and upping this (admittedly easy) goal would defeat that purpose. Maybe I’ll do the same thing as last year and stop at 69 books, but we’ll see if I marathon watch a show in that week at the end of the year.

NaNo and Wikiwrimo Stuff

One of my main website tasks was updating the databases on the sites and updating the software on both sites to the latest versions. Despite putting this off for most of the summer (after putting it off for a year, more in the case of Wikiwrimo), I’m finally DONE. Hooray for finally crossing a thing or five off my to-do list.

With the new NaNoWriMo website launching soon, I’ve had to dig into the site and learn all its new features just like everyone else. The bigger challenge is that I’ve been so busy lately that the time to do so has come in tiny fits and starts that I’ve had to squeeze around the rest of my life (which has gotten busier than usual this summer).

Writing Stuff

I did do (and win) Camp NaNoWriMo, even though (once again) I lowered my goal drastically. This time I concentrated on doing more character work for the Anxiety Girl novel, particularly working on one big character plot hole: didn’t she have other friends and acquaintances besides the BFF who moved away? Surely she did, so why did they never show up in the first two drafts until the very end?

The last-minute push for a Camp NaNo win did get me into a habit I would like to embrace during NaNo as well: writing during my work lunch breaks. I already do this regularly, but I usually write in my paper journal instead of writing fiction, and I’m not sure which to continue in my attempt to make the “break” part of my lunch break a productive one. While I do enjoy scribbling a few pages in my paper journal, the most I can do in half an hour is reflect on what I’ve done over the past few days and figure out what I need to do over the next few days, instead of diving deep into my soul, taking apart a specific issue, and analyzing it. That’s not something I can commit to doing in half an hour. The problem is I don’t have time to do this for several hours at a time anymore. Since journaling is a major source of stress relief for me, this causes problems. It’s like telling Bender to drink. “Sushi, go write.”

Pokemon Go Stuff

I went to Pokemon Go Fest in Chicago, which was a blast and a half, and I even got to meet a longtime NaNo friend in person!

I’m still competing in the PVP aspect of Pokemon Go, mostly for the social aspect instead of trying to win. This is for the best, considering I haven’t done as well in the past few tournaments. I’ve still maintained my challenger rank, which is all I care about since the challenger rank is purple and the rank below that is orange. We all know which color is superior.

Personal Stuff

I’ve also taken care of lots of little things that have required doing over the past while: database surgery on my sites, updating the versions, gathering the stuff to renew my passport…

I did start therapy again recently, but since I only started that a few weeks ago, I can’t confirm or deny that therapy alone is the miracle cure here.

I remember feeling especially burned out this time last year, mainly due to the exhaustion of juggling my regular job (even with reduced hours) and freelance work and starting to have a little more of an in-person social life and maybe having some kind of feelings? I wasn’t too sure about that one.

But this year, I feel less burned out, although a little more burnout has kicked in since Dragon Con ended. Sure, I’m stressed over the attempt to balance my social lives and work (but that’s another post), and I’ll be scrambling some once I get into extreme NaNo gear in the next few weeks, but for now, I’m in a flow that I’m trying to enjoy while I can. I think the new job and better financial security (even though things weren’t too bad at this time last year) are helping, but things are improving on almost all fronts, writing and reading fiction as notable exceptions.

Overall, life is pretty okay at the moment, although I could use a little more time to myself just to write and go over my feelings. Even though the next couple of months promise to be extremely busy, especially with NaNo right around the corner, there’s a lot of fun coming up as well.

The Case for TV

If you know me, it’s no secret–I’m terrible at watching things. I didn’t watch the original Star Wars movies until this year. I didn’t start watching Doctor Who or Firefly or Futurama until 2013.

Depending on who you ask, I grew up during the second golden age of children’s programming, the sweet spot of late 90s and early 2000s when shows like Spongebob Squarepants, All That, and the original Pokemon anime ruled the airwaves. I tuned into these shows, but my brother loved watching TV more than I did. Still, I found myself tuning in, although I tuned in less and less as I grew more obsessed with being seen as “smart” and of course, when we finally got the wonder of dial-up internet at home in my early teen years. Sorry, Kenan and Kel.

As I grew older, TV lost its lure as the internet took over. Why watch TV, I thought, when it was such a lazy pursuit and I could be reading something or updating my blog or posting to the NaNo forums instead? Why sit there and be lazy, ignoring the part where I was being lazy by reading blog after blog online?

My college years and the first few post-college years passed with this attitude. In 2013, I dated a guy who watched a lot of TV. In fact, that was one of his main hobbies. It turned out to be a good thing, though. Through him and his Netflix account, we watched all of Futurama, a lot of Doctor Who, and all of Sherlock (at the time). All of these were rewatches for him, but I was seeing all these through fresh eyes and finally understanding where “Shut up and take my money”, “It’s bigger on the inside” and “I’m in my mind palace” came from.

But after we broke up, I stopped. Using his Netflix account would be weird, and I didn’t have the money or the justification to pay for my own; after all, I didn’t watch anything enough to justify the payment. I filled the next several years with scrambling for work and reading voraciously (and then promptly forgetting what I read); I was finally reading again after reading two books in 2012 and zero books in 2013. Thank all the TV.

During the five years since I started reading again, I read 805 books. Sure, a lot of those books are thanks to completing the entire Baby-Sitters Club universe, and sure, I had more spare time (and less of a social life) during the first half of that five-year span, but the point still stands.

Meanwhile, my knowledge of pop culture was suffering.

***

Books hold an odd spot in pop culture. When you’re surrounded by writers and readers, it’s easy to see books as the epicenter of media. The Hate U Give and Simon Vs and The Fault In Our Stars became movies. From All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Handmaid’s Tale and Thirteen Reasons Why as a Netflix series. And of course, Harry Potter and Hunger Games and Game of Thrones and (dare I admit it) Twilight and 50 Shades.

In general, books become a part of media when they become hugely popular or when they become so big that everyone knows about them.

The barrier is a little lower for watched media, I argue, particularly for TV. Maybe it’s the nerdy circles I run in, that sweet overlap of people who love books and participate in other media fandoms, who somehow carve the time in their lives for all these things. Or maybe it’s because so much media that was once viewed as “nerd stuff” is now mainstream: Game of Thrones, Star Wars, MCU, Doctor Who… and the list goes on.

More people watch TV and movies than read books. There. I said it. Watched media is easier to consume, something many people can have in the background while doing other things. I’m not generally one of these people, and it’s not for lack of trying. I’m terrible at turning off my brain and just sitting. I’ve tried to do other things while watching TV or a movie, from making grocery lists to appraising Pokemon to opening Pokemon gifts to grinding out Pokemon trainer battles or going through a Meltan box, but most of these things don’t take too long. The bigger problem with these things is that they don’t take too long to do. I can do most of these things in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Doctor Who. In fact, I did just that when restarting Eleven’s run. (Look, I couldn’t remember exactly where I stopped, so it made the most sense of restarting at Eleven to minimize my rewatching.)

The problem is, I’ll never be caught up enough.

***

What do I mean by Enough? That’s a question worthy of its own blog series. Everyone else, it seems, has had years to watch shows as they’ve arrived, or soon enough after that they haven’t had to put too much thought into how best to consume.

But watching a TV show, especially a long-running one, is a far bigger investment than reading a book series. I’d go out on a branch and say that finishing off all of Buffy (~100 hours) is, timewise, comparable to my quest in finishing all the Baby-Sitters Club books a few years ago. And that’s just one TV show. Multiply that by all the older TV shows and movies I want to catch up on, plus my limited time in the day, and I need at least another lifetime to catch up on everything. Or a time machine so I can make myself catch up on all these things while I had the time to do so. (Seriously, what was I doing back in 2012 when I read only two books and was barely working? Not watching TV or movies, apparently. Or writing or anything else, for that matter.)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve found a setup that works decently enough: I set up my ancient monitor to plug in to my laptop with a VGA-to-HDMI adapter. After considering time, money, and space, this is probably the most efficient solution. Ideally, I could combine this with social time and try to get friends to watch the shows with me. My roommate would probably be happy to do these things, but we both need the time to set these things up, but there’s also the part where I just want to be left alone, and sometimes I just want to work on things on my computer while watching things too. Or I want to settle in with some words or appraise Pokemon while watching TV in the background. Any of these things can keep me from catching up on a series.

But I did watch three episodes of Doctor Who last night* alongside making two batches of soup, folding laundry, and taking a shower. And now that this post has sat in a draft state long enough, I’m actually finished with the Eleventh Doctor’s run. So maybe not all hope is lost after all.

*That is, the night before writing this section. Not the night before clicking “Post”.

The State of the Sushi, Spring 2019

Hi. It’s been awhile, eh? Let’s fix that.

Work stuff
First things first: I have a new job! If you’ve been following me elsewhere online, then you might know that at the end of 2018, my at-the-time job transitioned into a contract position at the beginning of 2019. In a way, this was a relief; I was slowly burning out throughout the second half of 2018, and having some spare time on my hands helped more to get back on my emotional feet than anything else. I had built up substantial savings over the last year and a half at that job and was still doing some freelance work to bring in money, so I didn’t have to accept any old job right away.

This relief and confidence was a new feeling. Sure, I had built up savings before, but never to this amount. I also wasn’t immediately facing the decision to pay the remainder of my self-employment taxes or to pay my rent for the next few months. So when I started a new job in mid-March in my field and only needed to touch those savings to bridge the gap until my first paycheck in early April, I knew that despite my past worries about money, I would be okay. And things would get even better.

(Oh, the job itself is technical writing. I can walk to work and there are dogs and snacks all the time and a Pokemon Go gym on the building. It’s a miracle I get any work done.)

Goal stuff
I mentioned earlier that I had no intention of setting any 2019 goals beyond becoming a better person, however vague that goal is. Since this goal is irritatingly difficult to measure, I have no idea if I’m a better person today than I was in 2018, or in 2016, or in 2014. For all I know, I’m worse and getting worse all the time. Maybe I am. But despite the constant need to do something at all times and trying to accomplish and consume as much as I can, I’m overall less stressed than I have been in the past. Several factors could be contributing to this: a more active social life, higher financial security (as my current job brought a significant raise, plus I’m still continuing my freelance work to finish off my debt), and starting to cook in bulk. I’ll return to this point in six months and see how things are going in the pre-NaNo rush.

As for the one measurable goal I did set this year, I’m crushing it, with 31 books read out of my 50 books goal. Thank some of the extra time I had at the beginning of the year and all the nonfiction audiobooks I listen to on my commute. Maybe next year I’ll set a TV or movie goal.

Writing stuff
Hahahahaha what’s a writing. I’ve thought about my books if that counts at all. (Spoiler: it doesn’t.)

I participated Camp NaNoWriMo with the goal of writing 30 poems in 30 days. Coincidentally, this also aligned with NaPoWriMo in April. Since I had zero previous poetry experience beyond cringeworthy middle school love poetry and the occasional high school poetry unit, this was an experience. The most notable is that I am so used to writing in prose that I find myself writing my poetry in prose and then either rambling into the distance or cutting off the poem before I start rambling into eternity. Thanks to the ridiculous busyness that April became, I lowered my goal to 15 poems and squeaked in a win on the last day.

Pokemon Go Stuff
Yes, this gets its own section now. I’ve been participating in the PVP cups primarily for the social aspect, but thanks to doing decently in the first three cups and winning one of them, I still somehow got an invite to the Silph Arena regional competition. I went 2-4 in regionals, but my losses were ridiculously close and I still had a blast. Best of all, one of the Atlanta folks won and is going to the world championship! He’s also ranked somewhere near the top worldwide.

And yes, I’m going to Chicago’s Go Fest next month! Let me know if you’re also going; I want to meet you! I can give you a DragonCon Unown or a Carnivine if that’s unavailable where you are.

Personal stuff
There’s a lot to put here, things that deserve their own post or five. The short version:

Now that my new job’s health insurance has kicked in, I plan on restarting therapy for some of my anxiety issues, which should be thrilling. Unfortunately my old therapist has moved, so I get to begin the search again. Whee.

My college roommate of three years visited for a week, where we visited our old campus and the local feminist bookstore, hung out with an old mutual friend who came in from out of town, and ate a lot of yummy vegan food. We also got some real talk out of the way before the sanitized version that often happens at reunions. Speaking of reunions…

I went to my ten-year college reunion, where I partied with current students, met up with a few of my old professors, and went to a fairly awkward class party and hub sing. Don’t tell my classmates, but hitting the dance floor and having current students buy me drinks in the dive bar next to campus at 1am is what memories are made of…. Especially when you never partied as a college student in the first place.

All in all, it took a long time to get here, but life is okay at the moment, even if I am looking at my calendar for the next few months and thinking “RIP me”.

Living, Fast and Slow

I’ve always been fast, and everyone in my life knows it.

“Slow down,” my teachers would tell me when it was my turn to read out loud. My classmates, on the other hand, loved it–when it served them. When we were almost done with reading a passage aloud, they would volunteer me to read the rest of that passage in order to spend the rest of the class time goofing off.

The speed at which I approached life extended to my schoolwork as well. I dashed through math worksheets, sped through books, and scribbled my way through vocabulary word stories, finally getting to the point of the stories after writing ten times the words my classmates had… in the same time.

That was nothing compared to my adult life ahead.

I started keeping a paper journal in September 1998, when my journal consisted of “I <3 [some guy]” scribbled everywhere on the pages and a “Things I Love/Things I Hate” list on the back page.

I wrote everywhere: during class, on the bus, while waiting in the gym for classes to begin every morning, I managed to scribble down a few words. Every book I read received a note in these journals, a plethora of information I could add to my Goodreads profile now if I were so inclined.

More importantly, I chronicled everything worth noting, right down to the lines of dialogue that I could remember, something I wasn’t terribly bad at back then. Thanks to all the spare time I had back then, I could do this in between living my life, scribbling down interesting incidents before going on to do something else, using the memories from my experiences to shape a tale for Future Sushi to examine. Something I struggle to find time for now.

The days are long, but the years are short.

Especially in recent years, I’ve come to realize that my time on this planet is short, and I can’t make that short time longer. Even worse, a lot of my time as a young adult has been wasted through never having time and money at the same time, time I could have spent living it up, building friendships, scribbling down words, finding myself.

Could have. Should have. Would have.

Those thoughts echo through my mind as I scramble through the years in vain, trying to make up for lost time that I’ll never get back, knowing that even if I pursue the world at double speed now, nothing makes up for that lost time.

That doesn’t stop me from structuring my days so I can get the most done possible. From making sure I get everything done at my regular job, then build in time for my freelance work, and then editing Wikiwrimo and saying yes to social outings (however small in number) and doing the occasional Pokemon Go raid, there isn’t much time afterward to read everything I want and write everything I want and unscramble everything that’s been going on in my head and maybe watch a thing or two and return to those novels that have been sitting there unedited for years and try to catch up on all the cultural stuff I’ve missed over the years.

I can juggle all these things for awhile, but eventually I give out. Something has to give.

The crashes are slow, sure, and inconveniently timed, and I find myself living in a state of lethargy and indifference, unable to tell if it’s burnout or depression or something else entirely. Nothing makes sense anymore. I find myself trying to relax by writing, but inevitably I find myself thinking of ways to optimize my time: through cleaning the house or picking up groceries or crossing something off the mountain that is my to-do list. The high from accomplishing something, experiencing that sense of truly living and accomplishing, is not something sought out when relaxing, so when I’m relaxed, my first instinct is to search for that high again.

It is an addiction in a way, but despite the look, it isn’t a productive one. But off I go again to chase that productive high from accomplishing something.

The struggle comes because I truly want to soak in the experience instead of thinking of what comes next, how much longer am I going to be sitting here, why am I just standing here doing nothing. I’ve managed to take in the full experience before while not letting these thoughts intrude: at some concerts where everyone is crammed into the same too-tight space next to the stage, while being alone with my thoughts on particularly long walks, while exploring new places and the wonders contained within. Lately, however, seeking out these new things has become more difficult: partly due to the colder weather outside, partly due to recovering from this recent crash, and partly due to knocking tasks off the growing to-do list.

Despite all my desire to the contrary, I keep living fast anyway. One problem with living life in the fast lane is that I miss so much. Doing so much work leaves all the remaining time to be split between everything else in my life, which is no small feat. Requiring more sleep than the average person doesn’t help much, cutting into the time I could spend doing everything else and even less time for recharging for the next big thing ahead.

I heard recently that our mindsets start to settle and we become less open to new experiences at around age 33. True or not, it scares me, in part because I’ll be 33 next year. I’ve already lost a lot of time due to suboptimal financial situations where I couldn’t explore things that required money. Living life fast now, in a way, was my solution to that. Now I’m rethinking everything, trying to make up for lost time so I can live the rest of my life without these haunting thoughts telling me to live more, do more, be more, while relaxing guilt-free at the same time.

According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, we have two selves: the experienced self and the remembered self. The experienced self lives in the moment. But the remembered self is the one that keeps score, shaping these experiences into a narrative to be used in the future.

“Odd as it may seem,” Kahneman writes, “I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.”

I’ve struggled with my remembering self for over a decade, trying to fashion my experiences into a cohesive story, but that’s not always the way to live life. My attempts to embrace the experienced self play into why I’ve struggled with keeping my paper journal in recent years; after all, I could be living my life instead of recounting what has already happened. Instead of living my life in the present, I find myself hovering between the past and the future, recounting what has already happened while thinking ahead to what needs to happen next. My experienced self is indeed a stranger.

I wish I knew how to fix this. If I did, I would be doing that instead of writing this post. All this is why I’ve made the 2019 resolution of being a better person instead of the usual laundry list of goals. Being happy in the moment and not always thinking about the next thing will make me happier in the long run than chasing some list of goals, even those I want deeply. And as a stranger I talked to at lunch said recently, she always accomplished more when she didn’t make resolutions. Maybe I’ll do the same by trying to be better and living a little more slowly.

2018 Revisited and Looking Toward 2019

I’m not sure where to start with summarizing this year, to be honest. It’s easy to look back at my original 2018 goals and revisit those. When I do that, this year looks disappointing on paper. I fell 11 books short of reading 80 books and decided to stop there. I didn’t rewrite a book. I didn’t start training for a marathon or a 50k (the running kind, not the writing kind).

What did I do? That’s a good question, one I’m struggling to answer.

As I’m leaving the prime of my life (and won’t get to make that joke again for six more years), the main lesson I took away from this year was that even I need a break. I found myself working my day job, then doing freelance work and taking part in assorted social stuff and generally saying yes to everything, when all I wanted was to do nothing for awhile. The burnout was creeping in by late August, but I couldn’t take a break then; my coworker at my day job had suddenly quit and left a lot of work in her wake for me to pick up on top of my own. Then I had friends from out of town visiting for DragonCon and was attending myself, and somehow managed to have a decent time despite wanting to hide and sob into nothingness for much of the weekend.

After that I returned to the rat race of working in some form seven days a week, keeping up with Pokemon Go and NaNo Prep and everything else going on in my life, then feeling bad whenever I did take a break to see friends or simply zone out. My brain’s Check Engine light started flashing more stubbornly around mid-October but I made myself keep going because NaNoWriMo was around the corner and I had to figure out a plot and figure out my sprinting schedule and my write-ins and the little details for my San Francisco trip.

Then in December, I crashed. I had anticipated this crash for months, but nothing prepared me for the mental and emotional lethargy that came along with that crash. I tried to hide this, and those who know me well may have spotted signs like being less chatty online than usual–something NaNo could have easily disguised thanks to working on my novels.

Despite the crash, I still haven’t been idling too much. I finished my freelance work for the month so I could have a proper week off for the holidays, something I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I read three works of fiction outside of book club selections, something I hadn’t done in about six months. I watched a few movies alone, something that happens rarely enough that its occurrence in itself is worth noting (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Groundhog Day).

This month has also given me time to reflect on what I’ve done with this short time of mine on this planet and what time there is remaining. I’m still working my way through a lot of those things, some of which will earn their own posts here. One thing has become abundantly clear.

I don’t like the person I’m becoming.

That was a hard sentence to write.

I’ve been chasing that high on life feeling for so long, and at some point I’ve settled for good enough without stretching to explore new things. I’m chasing that feeling of doing something, anything for the sake of crossing things off my to-do list, whether that’s for work, the wiki, or any number of other things I’ve been working on. And yet, just as we associate older people with getting settled in their ways, I’ve done the same thing, only in a different way. I’m doing the same thing I once actively avoided for fear of becoming the people in that tiny town I grew up in, sticking to my patterns of work and reading and sometimes writing and simply existing at the expense of building friendships and experiencing the feeling of being and satisfaction.

How do I solve that problem, though? I spent this year trying to juggle all of the above and failing. Running fell to the wayside by October. So did non-NaNo writing. I’ve found myself feeling less connected to my friends and acquaintances lately, although whether that’s due to drowning in work or my own mental health issues (some patterns of which are creeping back into my life) is another question. Even around Wrimos, the people I find myself most connected to, I’ve found myself feeling more out of place than usual. But I’ve also found myself not being as good a friend as I would like, possibly due to aforementioned issues.

So instead of setting goals like “rewrite a novel” or “train for a marathon” that get carried over from year to year, I’m going to stick to one simple, yet difficult, goal: Be a better person.

I wish I had more concrete goals than this; the lack of what my teachers called SMART goals is driving me up the wall. How do you become a better person in a year? How do I measure that and compare to what I was at the beginning at the year? How do I know if the improvements I’ve made are sustainable for years to come?

All valid questions, none with good answers. I’ve never liked uncertainity in any area of my life. This is even worse, and I’m not sure what to do.

It’s time to find out.

NaNoWriMo 2018 and a confession

It’s that time of year again: time for the yearly post-NaNoWriMo wrapup post!

First, for the thing that people want to know: I wrote a grand total of 169,047 words spread across approximately a book and a half.

This year’s NaNoWriMo was tough for me, both for writing and my non-writing life. I’m still struggling with the non-writing part, but that’s a post for another time.

The writing part was tough in part because I came up with an idea in the three days before NaNo started and had no idea where it started. The idea started as a young woman going through a bad breakup, moving to a new neighborhood, and checking out the local bar scene in the new neighborhood. What would happen from there? Maybe she would listen to people and bump in on conversations. Maybe she would play matchmaker. I had no idea. After a little bit of pre-NaNo conversation, the bar turned into a haunted bar, one that the main character would experience after being in some kind of emotional pain. Now this was something I could run with. I wound up writing a sequel after wrapping up the first one and leaving a lot of loose ends to tie up, written mostly over the course of 50k weekend (US Thanksgiving weekend) and still incomplete because I have no idea where to take it next. The premise is fantastic (in my humble opinion), so I’ll be coming back to this book.

The other thing that made NaNoWriMo challenging was my non-writing state of mind throughout the month. I had already been slowly burning out for several months before NaNo started, with little time to fully decompress before taking on some other big thing. I had been doing some form of work (including my day job and some occasional freelance work) every day for weeks at a time in the months leading up to NaNo and had a fairly active social calendar. My day job started taking a toll on my mental health during NaNo, making me really look forward to my San Francisco trip and being out of town for Thanksgiving. I had set a goal of 100k in an attempt to keep the bar low for me, knowing that this year was my ten-year streak of writing 100k or more, and I wasn’t going to let that go by without some kind of acknowledgement. So off I went into November without a chance to relax or take a break. I could feel the need for a break early in the month; in fact, reaching 50k in seven days is my second-slowest pace in all ten years of writing 100k or more. I wrote in fits and bursts through much of the months, writing 5k days followed by days of poking out a hundred words just to have a chance at the 30-day writing streak badge.

The literary adrenaline had been sputtering for the past few NaNos, and I have to admit something I’ve still barely admitted to myself: My breakneck writing style of the past few years isn’t quite for me anymore.

“Well, just slow down,” you might say. That’s much easier said than done.

The problem is, I’m terrible at moderation; my fast, on-the-go nature deserves a post of its own. I’m less competitive about writing now than in the past, but the competitive streak is still there. I always try and write to the next hundred, the next thousand, the next palindrome, the next milestone. Oh, I’m a few hundred words away from passing three people on the Faces chart? Time to write. I’m this close to a lifetime milestone? Better get rolling. I always want to see what I can achieve, even if the 50k days are far behind me. But the last few NaNos and the resulting burnout of figuring out what to write after finishing that first book, not to mention figuring out that first book in the first place, have shown that maybe excessive wordiness, at least in the form of 200k+ in a month, isn’t the way.

And that’s okay. I know it’s objectively okay; I just have to convince myself of that. As that kid who never wanted a low A in a subject in school, convincing myself of this isn’t easy, even if writing less means I can spend a little less time writing means spending more time with the wider NaNoWriMo community, something I haven’t done as much of in the last few years. That’s what my trip to San Francisco and Night of Writing Dangerously made clear, even if I was there when the wildfires in other parts of the state made the air quality in San Francisco miserable. (Seriously, I flew over the fires on my first flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles.) I got to see old friends and meet Wrimos from all over the world, including two Wrimos with the same name from opposite sides of the country, plus MLs from London and Germany. (Fun fact: the ML from Germany is one of the newbies I adopted back in 2006. Twelve years later, we finally met in person. We were roommates in the same hostel, in fact.) I also visited the NaNoWriMo office again and made a guest appearance in a virtual write-in.

The words are important, yes, but the community means more to me than writing a bunch of words and stressing myself out about it. That’s what I need to get back to… once I figure out how to get better at moderation. Any ideas?

How Pokemon Go is like NaNoWriMo overachieving

It’s no secret that I’ve been playing Pokemon Go since the constant server crashing days of July 2016. I remember coming out of a doctor appointment a day or two after the game came out, ready to take a long walk and hatch an egg, and facing the spinning Pokeball of death. I tried everything–restarting the app, logging out and back in again, even restarting my three-year-old Galaxy S4.

As I kept playing, I tried to catch them all (taking a long break in November to work on my NaNo novel, of course). I was never the very best but still had fun anyway. When Pokemon Go introduced raids and legendary Pokemon in mid-2017, I waited until the new gyms and raids were available to people of my level (33 or 34 at the time) and then went to town.

At some point after raids began, someone created a Discord server for Atlanta raids. I joined it, then eventually joined another group that concentrated on raids closer to me. And from there, I started chasing the legendary birds for the weeks that they were out. Eventually I got burned out and stopped doing raids, missing the chance to catch Articuno (my favorite, and the reason I chose Team Mystic).

But when I returned to raiding and participating in Pokemon Go Community Days, I got to know many other Pokemon Go players. Some of them had already coasted past my level. A few were even at the maximum level of 40, something that looked so far away for me at my (at the time) modest level 35 with over half the experience still to be gained.

It reminded me of doing NaNoWriMo–overachieving, to be specific. For those not familiar, overachieving is the term applied to Wrimos who write significantly more than 50,000 words in a month–or aim to write 50k faster than the 30 days allotted. People who do this are called overachievers (OAs for short), and if you think you’re an overachiever, we do too. The more I thought about overachieving, the more I realized Pokemon Go and overachieving have a few things in common.

Someone has done more than you. Whether that’s reaching 50k on day 3 and discovering that some people did that in one day, or you’re at level 39 two years later and encountering people who have level 40 on multiple accounts, someone out there has gone even farther in pursuing their game. (Yes, multiple level 40 accounts by one person exist; there are several folks in my local Pokemon Go scene who have level 40 main accounts and level 40 alts. I have enough trouble playing on one phone; I can barely imagine using more.)

People have different circumstances and time constraints, meaning less (or more!) time to devote to PoGo or writing. Someone with a full-time job and a family and other life/health circumstances will have less time to devote to Pokemon Go and writing than someone with fewer of these major life commitments. Some people play (or write) more casually than others. That’s fine.

You don’t see what goes into someone else’s playstyle. One of the terms we use in the overachiever community for people who type “slowly” compared to the 80+ wpm folks (but still fast compared to many other Wrimos) are lovably dubbed slugs. In fact, there’s a Slug Club for the slower typists. Many of these people overachieve by devoting more time to writing. Same with Pokemon Go–some people keep buying raid passes from the store with real money and get up at 6am to start raiding, while others (like me) spend very little money and rely on coins from gyms for raid passes and other items. Some Wrimos do type like the wind, which helps with getting words down. But in the end, what matters is showing up to write (or play). If you don’t show up, you can’t level up. Simple as that.

Sometimes you need a break and that’s okay. Burnout is real, both in Pokemon Go and writing. I got burned out on chasing every single raid for the first summer of raids, and I’m still trying to balance the delicate line of having fun with raids and burning out and wanting to do nothing for days at a time, only wanting to play silly puzzle games online and do nothing of productive value. But the same happens with NaNo and even for overachieving.

Oh, and one more thing: Your progress is still amazing, no matter what everyone else around you is doing.

I’ll never be the very best at NaNoWriMo, like no one ever was. Given what some folks have accomplished, I don’t really want to be. I’ll never be the very best at Pokemon Go either even though I reached level 40 recently (and the max level may be raised soon anyway, forever giving me something to chase). I’m pushing myself to the limit of what I find to be possible while still maintaining the rest of my life. Even better, I’m having fun while doing it, and that’s what matters.