Farewell 2020 (I hope)

Oh 2020, the year that was a decade long, the month that was a year long… where do I start with you?

The problem with 2020 is you’re never grieving just one thing. The background noise of the world around us has become foreground noise: case numbers and deaths are rising, people think it’s their right to have a 500-person wedding or get a haircut or eat in a restaurant while putting themselves and others at risk, small businesses near you are closing, no one is taking this seriously, the leaders who can tell people to take it seriously aren’t doing shit and in some cases are actively making it worse…

During the first few months of the pandemic I was furloughed, then laid off. The then-boycritter and I broke up after sheltering in place apart and angsting over how we could stay together after he moved away for his new job. I found a new job. I took long walks around neighborhoods just out of my normal strolling zone but close enough that I could still visit on foot. A friend died early in the pandemic and I was the one who wound up telling our mutual friends and acquaintances.

With the foreground and background volumes so flawed, I did mourn the life I had in the Before Times, but I never got to grieve my own losses on their own. In the jumble that 2020 became, each thing added to the grieving pile with no hope of separation.

The volumes adjusted themselves as the summer turned to fall. The pandemic wasn’t worse, but it didn’t look better either. The world settled into a new normal. BLM protests filled the streets, including some near my home. I found a new job and laughed and cried at the new Baby-Sitters Club TV show and kept reading and social distancing. I caught imaginary monsters and won a few small tournaments. Democracy prevailed in the US presidential election, despite the attempts to overturn it. I redrafted a novel and virtually met hundreds of Wrimos around the world. Life was looking up again.

Now someone is fiddling with the foreground and background noises of the world again, and the non-grieving is coming back to me.

The memes and discussions will start in the coming weeks. Post your first 2020 photo. When was the last time you ate inside a restaurant? The last concert, the last festival, the last trip…

The last.

It’s hard to think of something as “the last”, especially right now. In Before Times circumstances, “the last” would mean “most recent”. That meaning still holds but has a heavier meaning of “last time for a very long time”, like how the last time I ate inside a restaurant was Tuesday of That Week.

When will I do that again?

It’s difficult to make 2021 goals with so many uncertainties floating around. A vaccine exists, but how widespread will the vaccine be in 2021? As a younger person with no high-risk conditions and a job that can be done remotely, I’m low on anyone’s priority list, and rightly so.

I haven’t set many goals for the past couple of years, a blessing in disguise this year. I did accomplish all three of my 2020 goals: read 50 books, write 100,000 words for NaNoWriMo, and become debt-free. The last one entered more nebulous territory during the spring despite paying off my student loans in February, but I demolished the rest of that debt after starting the new job.

I’ve been taking on too much and burning out for a long time, and that period of joblessness in the spring and summer would have been an ideal mental recovery time without a pandemic in the way. I dream of winter 2019, those three months of pandemic-free relaxation spent in coffee shops and food halls during off-hours, applying to jobs and writing one of my best navel-gazing essays to date.

The experiencing self, who is choking up more than a few tears while writing this post, is simultaneously bored and working overtime. There is almost nothing new to experience except bad news and chaos all around. My job is in my field and pays well but is often frustrating. Living with someone else shows the best and worst of us both, and the worst is more often magnified in my mind.

The remembering self is busy crafting a tale for Future Sushi, but there’s almost nothing to add in my day-to-day life. The days are blending together into this eternal wasted March. Somewhere in that future lies an end to this hellscape, but the exact location is uncertain.

Time still marches on, independent of our actions, which causes me to look ahead to whatever shape 2021 might take.

Big goals haven’t worked for me in a long time. Saying I’ll edit my book or revamp this website haven’t helped without a more concrete action plan. Here’s what I have planned for 2021:

  • Re-plan and start revising my NaNoWriMo 2020 novel
  • Read 50 books
  • Write 100,000 words for NaNoWriMo 2021
  • Save half my post-tax income

The last goal may become a challenge if we can start having social gatherings and go to restaurants and concerts and conventions safely again. I welcome it. Barely going out in 2020 and finding a new job with a significant pay increase has made me realize how lucky I was this year — and how unlucky so many others weren’t. As a Great Recession grad, it took a long time to reach financial stability, and I would have been screwed if I had my financial situation of five years ago.

Most of this saved cash will go toward retirement thanks to this late financial start. Beyond that, I’ll start saving for a place to call my own and yes, a nice vacation if things ever go back to normal. I have a lot of places to see before climate change destroys them.

Beyond that, I’m taking small steps and hoping they add up to big ones. It’s the only thing I can do right now.

Adventures in Virtual Globetrotting: Numbers, Logistics, and Other Random Facts

If you missed my last post, I discussed my adventures in virtually traveling around the world for NaNoWriMo. It was an amazing time and one of the few upside of the world being in its current state.

Now let’s talk statistics and logistics. This is a long post. Fair warning.

Where I went

As mentioned earlier, I visited 84 new regions across 42 states and the District of Columbia, plus 13 countries outside of the United States.

For the US, that looks something like this:

sushimustwrite's chart of states virtually visited in NaNoWriMo 2020. All states are some shade of blue except HI, WY, ND, SD, NE, SC, DE, and VT.

The chart of states I virtually visited in NaNoWriMo 2020. Light blue (Iowa, Georgia, and North Carolina) means I visited the state only through the Discord crawl and not as part of one of their own regional events (dark blue).

In case the map isn’t visible, every state is some shade of blue except Hawaii, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Hawaii, South Carolina, Delaware, and Vermont. You can ignore the electoral votes; the 270towin site was the easiest and quickest way to visualize my adventures.

Here are the non-US regions:

  • Australia
  • Belgium (via Discord crawl)
  • Canada
  • England
  • France (via Discord crawl)
  • Hungary (via Discord crawl)
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • Malaysia (via Discord crawl)
  • New Zealand
  • Scotland
  • South Africa

Of the 84 regions visited, 60 of them (71%) are in the United States, lining up with NaNo’s region list — nearly two-thirds of the NaNoWriMo regions are in the United States. Seven of the 84 regions visited are in Canada, which also lines up — just under ten percent of NaNo’s regions are in Canada. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to visit a region in Central or South America due to lack of write-ins and not wanting to intrude on a primarily Spanish-speaking environment with only two semesters of Spanish studied nearly fifteen years ago.

I was in the Zoom where it happened

Sure, we were all virtual this year, but here’s where the write-ins happened:

  • Zoom – 26
  • Discord – 43 (includes 13 regions visited via the Discord crawl)
  • Twitch – 5 (includes 3 regions visited via 100 Hours of Twitch)
  • IRC – 4
  • Youtube – 2 (NaNo HQ write-ins hosted by MLs)
  • Chatzy – 1
  • Google Meet – 1
  • Facebook Messenger Rooms – 1

Note the Discord total includes 13 regions visited via a global Discord crawl and the Twitch total includes three regions visited via 100 hours of Twitch. Disregarding those, Zoom and Discord were the most popular by a landslide and used almost equally. One region (Melbourne) used both Zoom and Discord for the write-in I attended, but it was a special event. It’s not included in the total above. I didn’t track how many Discord write-ins used voice, video, or neither, but about half the non-crawl Discord write-ins used voice or video.

While Discord takes some initial setup on the admin side, it does offer the flexibility to use voice, video, or just text while offering a place for Wrimos to chat outside of write-ins. Plus it’s free. Zoom keeps you in the moment, which is great for the write-in but not as good for continuing to build a community after the write-in. Zoom also has the disadvantage of not being free for unlimited meeting lengths; every write-in I attended was on a plan that didn’t kick us out after 40 minutes. I’m not sure whether each ML ponied up for the plan themselves just for NaNo or was already using Zoom for work or personal purposes.

(Side note, I never left any of these regional Discord servers unless someone kicked me out for inactivity. Discord power users, if you have any tips for organizing them into folders, I’m all ears. I tried time zones, but the North America Eastern/Central folder is ridiculous.)

Also of note: some regions hosted write-ins via Whatsapp. I didn’t attend these, primarily due to time zone differences and the fact that you have to install the app and give the ML your phone number to join their Whatsapp group. These are very useful for regions already using Whatsapp as a regional chat but quite a hurdle for visitors. Similarly, the Facebook Messenger Rooms write-in was hosted by a friend’s region, where you have to join the associated Facebook group; it’s no secret I despise Facebook and wouldn’t join the group for a random region.

My Time Zone Privilege is Showing

There are some considerations that made this adventure as successful as it was. Roughly two-thirds of NaNoWriMo’s regions are in the United States; most of those regions, plus most of Canada’s regions, are concentrated in the Eastern and Central time zones. Since I’m on Eastern Time, this made many of the write-ins accessible to me without sacrificing even more sleep. It also made multiple shorter write-ins in one day possible if I attended one write-in in Eastern or Central Time and then one later write-in in Mountain or Pacific Time, which would be earlier in their evening. My time zone also made European and African weekend write-ins possible if the write-in was in their afternoon or evening. I even attended one Australia write-in on my Friday night, which was early Saturday afternoon there.

My home region participated in a global write-in crawl on Discord co-hosted by 25 other regions during the second week of NaNo, open to Wrimos affiliated with one of the regional Discord servers participating. And okay, I might have sneaked into some of the far-flung regions during work hours, especially regions that typically might not speak English. A group of MLs around the world hosted a Twitch event mid-month featuring 100 hours of streamed Twitch write-ins. These two events added 16 more regions to my total, as there was significant overlap between the participating MLs in the two events. I also counted two virtual write-in from NaNoWriMo HQ hosted by MLs and a stream from a former ML in Japan.

How I Did It

Lots of planning. We’re talking more planning than I’ve done for any of my NaNo novels. I spent most of October’s second half scouting out regions, making sure to include regions I had already been invited to, large regions, small regions, regions outside the United States… I hoped to get a good cross-section of the world in these adventures while also attending a general social event and a big event, basically imitating a typical in-person NaNo experience.

I had planned early on that my big event would be London’s overnighter, and I got the date for that early on for write-in planning purposes.

My process went something like this:

  • Choose a region.
  • Look at their region’s events on the NaNoWriMo website.
  • If there were 2-4 events a week, I chose one that fit into my schedule and put it on my Google calendar.
  • If there were write-ins nearly daily, I copied the region’s event URL to my planning document. Regions offering lots of write-ins gave me a backup plan in case something fell through, or in case I got tired of checking regions at random. This came in handy later in the month when I was running low on time and plot.
  • If the region had exactly one weekly write-in, I chose one of those weekly write-ins and put it on my calendar. Doing this crowded most of my weekend afternoons pretty quickly.

I filled in most of the first week quickly, attending only one write-in on November first and spacing out one write-in per day over the first week. For regions with only one or two weekly write-ins, I made sure to choose an event now so I wouldn’t be scrambling for those regions later.

From choosing the regions to tracking the write-ins, this was a 100% manual operation, and to be honest, finding new write-ins to fill in gaps became my main source of procrastination as the month passed.

Tracking All These Write-Ins

I’m in love with Google Calendar. Sorry, future hypothetical partner. Fortunately the events section on the NaNo website converts the time to your own time zone as set on the NaNo website, so my job was making sure I entered the times in Google Calendar correctly. I entered the region’s name, the location as Zoom/Discord/wherever the write-in was happening, and then included any other useful info: the event listing on the NaNo website, the Zoom connection info, whether I had already joined the Discord server, if I had to check a specific forum thread on the day of the event for the meetup link…

By some miracle I mixed up only one event due to time zone differences, and it worked out in my favor time zone-wise. I was wondering why a write-in was began at 9pm their time…

Some regions still use Google Calendar, possibly due to the past NaNo site integration with Google Calendar. A few regions skipped the NaNo site event listing altogether and linked to a Google calendar, which meant I had to do the time zone conversion on my own or (in some cases) add the calendar to my own Google Calendar to view the events at all. I would love to see some integration with Google Calendar, whether that’s an “add to Google Calendar/iCal” button or a tool for MLs to add events to the site from Google Calendar so they don’t have to add events individually. I’d also love a way to see all your upcoming RSVP’d events in one list but this may be useful only to power users like me.

You actually wrote at all these write-ins, right?

Yes, look at my word count! Well, at most of them. A few of them turned out to be a pure social hour, sometimes because the ML was the only other attendee, sometimes because the other folks there knew me and it was a low-attendance write-ins so we just chatted the whole time. I did get a few words in at each write-in. I visited one region (New York City) for a pure social hour and wrote zero words as a result.

Why didn’t you visit my region?

I have a full-time job and no time machine. Sorry! I tried to visit as many as possible while working full-time, sleeping a reasonable amount, helping out with @NaNoWordSprints, eating three meals a day, maintaining basic hygiene, participating in three remote Pokemon Go PVP tournaments, and having some time set aside for mental breaks. I needed those brain breaks, especially around mid-month when my novel was all over the place. One day when we are one with our AI overlords and not subject to silly things like mortality and fleshy bodies, I can come visit you all.

To put this adventure in perspective, there are 720 hours in November and almost as many NaNoWriMo regions. Even if we exclude the ones without events or MLs, that’s still a lot of regions and not enough time.

But I wanted to region hop with you!

I received a few requests to region hop as a group. In the end I didn’t make the full calendar public because things changed regularly, sometimes at the last minute for reasons out of my control. At least one write-in on my calendar was cancelled, and it felt unfair to hold other people to so many things I couldn’t control. Also, one person region-hopping one thing, but I wasn’t sure how the host Wrimos would feel about a whole army of non-local Wrimos invading all their write-ins, especially at some lower-attended write-ins toward the end of the month. I’m sorry!

Random observations

Some regions were already virtual due to being so spread out, and moving to an all-virtual format didn’t change much. Others, such as my home region, had previously hosted virtual events alongside in-person events, so moving to an all-virtual format was easier. In my experience and discussion with Wrimos, the regions that previously had a strong in-person event system but little virtual community outside of those in-person events were the ones that struggled with attendance and engagement as the month wore on.

Like in a normal year, some days were more productive than others, meaning yes, some write-ins were more productive than others. Living in a new battleground state during US Election Week killed my productivity for a few days, and yes, this came up at every write-in that week when the Wrimos found out I wasn’t a local. (That discussion usually went something like “I can’t concentrate, I’m watching election results. Georgia, wow.”) My most productive write-ins featured regular sprints with some conversation in between those sprints, usually with Zoom or Discord voice/video. It also helped if someone was tracking the word counts in a spreadsheet so my word counts were visible to everyone and not just getting lost in the chat. This contrasts with in-person write-ins where I’d normally sit quietly and write for several hours, hardly talking to anyone. If anything, the virtual write-ins as a whole were more structured than the in-person write-ins I’ve attended and hosted, possibly to avoid the ease of turning them into a pure social hour. That said, a few write-ins were purely social hour and they were still loads of fun. I managed to sneak in a few words to make the write-in count.

I used what feels like every word war bot in existence. Their different commands blended in my head throughout the month, sometimes to the amusement of local Wrimos. For what it’s worth, Sprinto and Winnie were the most popular ones on Discord. Every bot’s commands are a little different and I could probably make a comparison chart for every war timing bot out there. Also, Winnie was quite stingy with her raptors, but I finally got one in Adelaide.

Despite all the fun, the world tour wasn’t perfect. Besides the part where it wasn’t a live world tour and I couldn’t visit all 660+ regions, a couple of events had absolutely no one else show up. I allowed some flexibility for cases like this. If someone else showed up, I counted it, even if it wasn’t the host or ML. I allowed about half an hour before moving on to another region for the no-shows. This is where my time zone privilege starts showing: both of these no-shows were on a weekend in North America, so finding another write-in was extremely easy. Almost any large region had a write-in going on, so I had to look at only two or three regions before finding one to gatecrash, even if half an hour late.

But imperfections aside, this virtual world tour was the best way imaginable to spend such a weird November. Heck, this might be the highlight of my whole year. How am I supposed to top this for NaNo number twenty next year?

NaNoWriMo 2020: An Adventure in Virtual Globetrotting

Another 30 days of March pretending otherwise, another NaNoWriMo. This year was my nineteenth, and while I didn’t shatter any records, it was as good a NaNo as 2020 would allow. I wrote the third draft of the Anxiety Girl novel, which was a last minute decision (almost literally, I decided to do this around noon on Halloween, leaving almost no time to prepare). Sure, half the book is out of order and it’s unrecognizable compared to the first draft, but I solved several of the major plot holes hanging in the first two versions. To address what people come here to find out: I wrote 154,594 words and reached 50k on the 11th.

For 2020, that looks something like this:

sushimustwrite's NaNoWriMo 2020 word count chart, both overall and per day. The dip during the US election and soaring during the London lock-in are labeled.

All in all, a good year for words despite having no idea what I was doing, but nothing record-breaking. I’m fine with that.

Every NaNo is a different experience and 2020 is no exception with its unique way of making everything weird. This pandemic has already taken away opportunities to see friends, travel, and continue working at a job I enjoyed, and now it was taking away chances to meet other Wrimos too.

Or was it…

When I heard in August that all of NaNoWriMo’s official events would be virtual this year, I mourned yet another thing that the pandemic had taken away but knew it was the right decision. As the weeks passed and NaNo prep kicked into full gear, I turned this over in my head.

It started as a half-joke but as the weeks passed by, I realized that because all NaNo events were virtual, geography couldn’t stop me from attending write-ins anywhere, making a global tour of NaNo regions possible.

Early October turned to mid-October and I started browsing regions where I had friends or regions that would simply to be cool to visit. I had two hard-and-fast rules. First, no regions I’ve already visited in person. The point is to visit new regions, after all. This eliminated about ten regions. Second, no regions where English isn’t a primary language spoken in the region’s NaNo community. The second rule is why I never visited Central America, South America, or continental Europe outside of a global Discord crawl mid-month. I put a lot of thought into the second rule and decided that visiting all the continents would be cool, but not at the expense of making local communities bend to a possibly unannounced visitor’s will.

It was a blast.

NaNoWriMo 2020 saw me visiting 84 new regions across 42 states and the District of Columbia, plus 13 countries outside of the United States. I attended Melbourne’s Cup Day write-in, London’s all-nighter (which lasted only until 2 AM for me thanks to the magic of time zones), and a NaNo trivia event in New York City that wasn’t all about NaNo but did reveal how little everyone knows about lakes. (Lake Victoria is the second-largest freshwater lake, not the largest.) I wore silly hats in El Paso, listened to island-themed music in Naperville (western Chicago suburbs if you didn’t know), won a duck sticker in Seattle, and discovered the cheese mystery in Glasgow. I rolled out of bed early to visit Yorkshire and Edinburgh and Northwest Ireland and South Africa. I kicked word count butt in Boston, Salt Lake County, and Las Vegas, but definitely not everywhere else. I sneaked into friends’ write-ins and waited for them to notice.

I intentionally sought out big and small regions alike because NaNoWriMo doesn’t exist solely in these large mega-regions. NaNoWriMo connects Wrimos in small towns and in regions consisting of entire states and countries, in communities where Wrimos feel like they’re the only creative person in town. In fact, finding some of these smaller regions became my mission during the last week of November when I plotted out my states visited on a map and realized that with some scheduling Tetris and luck in existing events, visiting forty states could happen.

And it did.

In fact, the medium and small regions were just as fun and engaging. Tallahassee encouraged me to get that shiny Lugia after a sprint. (It was not shiny, but I did eventually get one.) We discovered that it really is a small NaNo world in Nashville. Billings challenged us all with word sticks, Box of Doom style. Mississippi had a grand old time in an old school chat room. As the last week arrived, we celebrated winners crossing the finish line, Wrimos coming back from behind, and writing The End.

This virtual world tour provided something else I didn’t expect: something to look forward to when the world is determined to rob us of joy. As my calendar filled up with write-ins from around the world, I got excited about going to Spokane, Washington; Melbourne, Australia; and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — all in the same week. This never would have happened if we could travel safely or attend in-person writeins. Every write-in added to the calendar was a concrete event to look forward to with real people, often on voice or camera. I never would have crossed paths with many of you otherwise, and my life is better for it. All of them — all of you — make NaNoWriMo what it is.

Thank you MLs, Wrimos, and NaNoWriMo staff for making this NaNoWriMo a light in the darkness that was so desperately needed last month.

What I’m Reading, 2020 Edition

I’m finally getting my book groove back after hardly reading any fiction in 2019. That is one thing the pandemic has been good for: Now that some of my life’s big time commitments are gone, I finally have a little more time to read. At first I had big dreams of zooming through a bunch of series that I’ve been meaning to read for years, but then I got preoccupied with Wikiwrimo updates, especially some of the large-scale ones that I finally had time to do.

One thing I’ve been trying to do is read less fiction by straight white dudes. I haven’t extended this to nonfiction due to the topics I like to listen to, my preference of listening to nonfiction, and the difficulty in obtaining audiobooks on those topics to start with, especially on a budget.

Since I haven’t written any book reviews in over two years, let’s just go through the highlights of this year’s books. All my books and their star ratings are on my Goodreads profile, but let’s just start from the beginning of the year and go through my favorites. Continue reading

The Baby-Sitters Club: Season Two Speculation

As I’ve mentioned a time or five in the past two months, I’m a huge fan of the Netflix Baby-Sitters Club adaptation. It takes the wholesome books I grew up on and refreshed them for modern girls while keeping the heart of the story. But while it took over two decades to devour the original BSC canon, I devoured the show’s first season in just over two hours.

I’ve already talked about the many things I love about the show — and probably missed a few things — but while writing that post I kept thinking: where do we go from here?

There are two directions to go when it comes to future speculation: topics to take on and books/characters to take on. Continue reading

Say Hello to Your Friends: The New Baby-Sitters Club TV Show is Even Better than the Books

It’s no secret that I’m a big Baby-Sitters Club fan. I’ve read every book in the BSC canon, including the spinoffs. My very first chapter book was a BSC book — Dawn and the Older Boy. (I guess rural second grade teachers weren’t screening books for content.) I annoyed everyone during my spelling bee days by spelling words Karen Brewer-style.

So despite not watching much TV, I devoured all ten episodes of the Netflix original series when it dropped yesterday — four episodes while eating a Twix ice cream bar, then a break to meal prep and eat dinner, then the last six episodes before going to bed.

Y’all. I was a sobbing wreck through large parts of the show. The adaptation is SO GOOD and part of me wishes I were 13 now and experiencing the best friends you’ll ever have for the first time. Let’s talk about the show. Here’s the trailer for your enjoyment. MAJOR SPOILERS ABOUND BELOW THE TRAILER.

Continue reading

Pokemon Go, PVP, and the Pandemic

The ongoing pandemic has meant finding new ways to keep my head clear without falling into the pit of despair. Big Wikiwrimo projects with specific and measurable goals kept me occupied in April and May, despite my work furlough (and eventual layoff) and the general doom and gloom of the world around us.

After those big things were done and I found myself floundering, I needed other things to occupy my time and keep me from falling.

Sure, not everything that occupies my time needs to be productive. After all, I no longer had a full-time job claiming 40 hours a week as of April, and there’s only so much time I can spend reading the news or goofing around online. As the weeks go by, so has my attention span. When I’ve been at my lowest, it’s been hard to concentrate on anything for more than a couple of mintues, including writing that last post (plus at least two more in the works). I’ve been going through a constant cycle trying to accomplish a specific thing, such as write this post, but instead find myself flipping between Twitter and Discord servers and Cookie Clicker and the NaNo forums and Pokemon Go and repeating all those, maybe mixing in the news or LinkedIn in the process. And before I know it, an hour has passed and I’ve forgotten what I was going to do in the first place.

And during this pandemic, despite everything, I missed people. To be more accurate, I missed being around people, even if just casually sitting in a coffee shop with people around me and knowing I paid for that fancy latte so damnit, I better get something done. I missed long walks and seeing friends and acquaintances on Community Day and raid days and at tournaments.

Playing PoGo in an urban area has many perks. When gamemakers Niantic extended the radius for spinning Pokestops and gyms so you could be a little further away to spin them, I suddenly found myself able to reach three Pokestops from my bedroom–four if I got a little drift in the bathroom or sat on the back porch. I can see sixteen gyms from home, with many others visible within a short walk. Since exercise has never been disallowed even while sheltering in place, I found myself walking around the neighborhood, taking down gyms and leveling up the ones I still wasn’t gold at it.

But seeing familiar faces at raids wasn’t enough, so I turned to PVP. I was already decent at it. I reached Challenger status in the Silph Arena and got invited to regionals in season 1 (where I crashed and burned, but that’s another story). All in a large community with two of the world’s top 100 players and many other great players (including some top players from the Go Battle League leaderboard), where I typically go 3-2 or 2-3 in my local tournaments, and tournament wins are extraordinarily rare.

I had meant to join a PVP lobby for awhile, but the 25 friend spaces typically required and the friend limit of 200 kept me from it. March’s switch to remote-only tournaments and battling an in-game friend after only one interaction meant I could practice with more people and participate in more tournaments. I could even do unranked practice tournaments. Starting with May’s themed tournament I started writing down the three Pokemon I used with the three Pokemon my opponent used for each match. This began on scraps of paper in May and eventually turned into a small notepad in July that I intend to keep using. I wrote down whether each battle was a win or a loss, whether I (or my opponent) did especially well in that match, and what moveset the opponents’ Pokemon had (if they were running an unexpected moveset or if multiple movesets were viable–looking at you, Hypno).

I looked for patterns. I started analyzing teams and trying to find holes in my teams, and soon I was able to find holes in my opponents’ teams as well. I learned that even if my opponent’s team had a hole that I could exploit, I was often better off leaving that hole’s counter as a safe swap instead of as a lead. I learned about counting fast moves (even though I’m still not good at it) and predicting when the opponent will use their charge move and occasionally guessed correctly (and sometimes made them guess incorrectly.

Through all this, I got better at playing. I reached the Ace tier on the Silph Arena, compared to last season when I was a purple Challenger. Sure, the Arena introduced new, even higher tiers this season, but reaching Ace still isn’t easy. I couldn’t have done that without the extra practice and doing only my local tournament every month. I even won a few tournaments. While two of those were three-round tournaments (with exactly eight people), one of those was a four-rounder with twelve people that I had zero expectation of winning because some folks in that tournament had defeated me in the past.

I also made PVP buddies from all over the world thanks to the Girls That PVP community, which I must fully credit for my increased success. I got to ask about possible team ideas in advance and even found myself giving advice to others. We generally hung out, which is something that doesn’t happen in the local Pokemon Go community. We started doing server-wide tournaments in March when the friendship restriction for remote battles was lifted. The server-wide tournaments typically last seven rounds. For the first one (Toxic Cup) I went 3-4. The second one (Forest), I went 4-3 and achieved my goal of ending positive. The latest two (Sorcerous and Catacomb)? Even better, both ending at 5-2, although I credit my girl Froslass for that improvement. (Seriously, she’s been on my team for every tournament victory.)

After all this, clearing out my friends list for some PVP space was worth it, just in case Niantic restricts remote battling to Ultra Friends (30 days of interaction) again. Building more communities upon which we have a common interest is what will get me through these horrible times.

**

But now I need a break. There are no weighted tournaments this month, just a few reruns of some past tournaments with some additions and restrictions. Some are meta-changing (no Umbreon in Ferocious), others not so much. Honestly, I’m tired. I was hoping to have at least two months off before the next Silph cup season began, especially since it’s likely to begin in October or November as it did last year, and I have another thing or two going on then. So doing these August tournaments, while fun, is another thing on my plate at the same time.

Hopefully September (and October and November? Please?) will be a true month off before the next season begins and I can dive back in.

Mourning the Before Times

I was laid off earlier this month.

This wasn’t how I wanted to start Camp NaNoWriMo (or any day). Like many people in my company and around the world, I was furloughed in early April due to the pandemic. Given the highly-affected sector my company provides tech and services for, the subsequent layoff wasn’t a huge surprise.

Coming from the world of small startups and self-employment, I’ve been through the wringer when it comes to losing gigs. One company shut down. Others ran out of money or work to do. Yet others were temporary to start with. My last job was a permanent position that transitioned into a contract position.

Somehow this was my first formal layoff from a permanent position. It took long enough.

Yes, I’m sad about it. I liked the work and the team I was working with. I enjoyed working on various projects that weren’t just writing and that “add breadth to my professional skill set” as the business folks would say. But in a way, I already spent the last three months in a constant state of uncertainty thanks to the furlough, so not much has changed in my day-to-day life. I got the pre-mourning out of the way over the furlough period and may have alarmed my boss and grandboss with my cheerfulness during the call.

Upon further reflection, I’m not mourning the job I had. I’m mourning the life I was working toward in the Before Times.

See, I had plans for this year and the next couple of years. I was going to become debt-free, quit freelancing, go on a vacation alone without any event attached to it, on and on. I was going to reclaim the life that had been slowly burning out over the past couple of years. I was going to get my midlife crisis out of the way early (although frequent lurkers may rightfully argue I’ve had several midlife crises already) and learn to relax a little.

Slowly but surely, I was making progress. Just before the pandemic got serious, I had reached six months in emergency savings and finished repaying my student loans. I had accumulated a week and a half of vacation time from work, ready to get away once I finished a couple of big projects. May was a 3-paycheck month and I had plans to finish off the rest of my debt with that third paycheck. Things were looking up.

The pandemic flushed all those plans down the drain. No Hamilton, no Dragon Con, no Safari Zone, no Chicago trip for Go Fest, no NaNoGiving, no random vacation. Even worse, the pandemic is pressing the pause button on any plan I might want to make right now due to its lack of control in this country and state.

It hurts, knowing that I’ve worked so hard to reach a stable point in my life where I could think about a future beyond just paying the bills and paying off debt, only to turn my basic survival instinct back on again.

I’m no stranger to this adversity. Hell, I finished college during the worst of the Great Recession and went through multiple years of unemployment and underemployment. Sadly I won’t be surprised if it takes a year to find a new job. I’m used to it. The voice in the back of my head tells me I should expect a two-year-long job search, so good thing I’m still able to save.

Turning this voice off is the hard part. While I’m in a comfortable position for the moment, so many others don’t have a safety net of family, savings, or a partner’s income. Many pandemic aid measures (additional unemployment payments, mortgage and student loan relief, for example) will last through the end of July, and I fear for what will happen to many people next month if they’re not renewed.

I keep trying to find hope now, but the constant inability to concentrate on anything that takes more than two minutes of effort makes it difficult, especially after two months of big productive energy. That doesn’t stop me from trying, little by little, using my influx of spare time to build something new in the meantime.

The Team Go Rocket grunts using dark-type Pokemon say “Wherever there is light, there is also shadow”. But wherever there is shadow, there is also light.

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.