Having More Time Didn’t Magically Solve My Problems

You’ve heard it over and over, from me, from other people, and probably from yourself: I don’t have time to do it all. And in my own navel-gazing case, it’s true. I have a full-time job, some freelance work that I’ve managed to limit to ten hours a week, and other side things: Wikiwrimo, competing in Pokemon Go PVP tournaments, leaving my computer screen to go outside regularly, reading 50 books in a year, pursuing my writing, and on and on and on.

Time was a struggle before the pandemic. I had a boycritter to spend time with. Every weekend had a social thing, sometimes multiple. I was combining multiple tasks at once: freelance work and spending time with the boycritter in coffee shops, cleaning or exercising or commuting with audiobooks.

Honestly, I had been burning out for a long time. All I wanted before the pandemic was a day to myself, free of responsibilities and work and social obligations. I got that free day at the end of February, right before COVID turned the world upside down. The problem with burnout is that a day off is merely a band-aid on an existing problem. Despite being furloughed in April and eventually laid off last year, I still found other things to do with all that time: more than zero effort into housework, updating Wikiwrimo with big picture updates that I had been delaying for years, a little bit of reading, and the usual job search stuff. As I settled into the rhythm of a new job alongside my freelance work, the things I had picked up with the extra time fell to the wayside, and once again I found myself scrambling to get ready for NaNo while also planning the great world tour.

Now I’m barely keeping up. Time spent on the wiki is time I’m not spending on freelance work, which is time not spent writing, which is not time spent making sure I don’t live in a pigsty. Just like in the Before Times, one thing going into overtime or one unplanned thing can mean rearranging the rest of my week to make sure I’m still on top of my obligations.

So what happens now when normalcy glimmers in the distance, along with the hope of an in-person social life on top of everything else I’ve been doing for the past year? Some deep reflection over whether my current lifestyle plus the return of a social life is even sustainable. This isn’t a recent problem. Unfortunately it is the real problem, and I don’t know how to solve it.

I’ve already shaved time from other hobbies. Pokemon Go battling is a hobby of mine, and I’ve cut back on the parts of the game I don’t enjoy, primarily raiding. This has been easy thanks to the continuous return of repeat Pokemon to legendary raids and my apathy toward mega raids. I’ve continued playing while out on walks because long walks in other neighborhoods have been my primary way of leaving the house safely during the pandemic, so I’ve combined that with taking down gyms.

More strikingly, that time has also come from my writing. Ever wondered why I still haven’t finished editing a novel yet? This is why. Editing a novel is a huge undertaking, one that is possible to squeeze into the cracks, but the extent of my editing, at least the early stages, lends itself more to longer stretches of time that I don’t often have. This leaves me trapped: my novels won’t fix themselves.

But some days, after all the work and extra work and wiki maintenance and generally being an adult, I just need to Not for awhile. That’s where all the Twitter and Discord and Pokeclicker and forum stuff come in, and yes, maybe reading a book or having a semblance of a social life while the world is turning its way around. I’ve forced myself to keep going, to keep squeezing some of these projects in, but there’s only so far I can go.

The pie-in-the-sky solution is to become financially independent. After all, the real problems started when I started working full-time with a commute and freelance work. Since my generation looks at boomers and say “Your decisions are why we’ll never retire”, financial independence before traditional retirement age is unlikely.

Well, financial independence is unlikely if I want to pursue the most logical solution: quit my freelance work. This has been dancing around my head for awhile, especially since juggling this much work, all my side projects, having a social life (well, in the Before Times), and everything else I want to do is impossible.

For awhile I told myself I’d quit after repaying my student loans and old debt. Then I paid off my student loans right before the pandemic, and about six months later, the rest of my debt. Now I can quit anytime I want, but something keeps me there. It’s not a love of the work. While it does involve a lot of research and organizing information that I enjoy, it’s often tedious.

Now I’m incredibly lucky to have a job that pays well (albeit with a long commute that will make these problems worse if office work resumes) and healthy savings. But there are retirement goals to get on track for, thanks to not even starting until age 30. There’s also a vague goal of saving for a down payment in the next few years, and freelancing will speed up progress toward that goal while not detracting from other goals like retirement catchup and travel.

I could quit now, but fear keeps me in place. It took me years to get any kind of job despite hundreds of applications and interviews, and I spent a few years cobbling together multiple low-paying freelance gigs to pay the bills with some breathing room. Hustling is in my blood.

There’s also the fact that my current job is a long-term contract with an expiration date. Yes, there’s an option for renewal or hiring, but I don’t know how that would play out, and my attitude toward staying may change drastically in the next year.

So now what? I don’t know. I really wish I did since this is the only life I’ve got, and the end of the pandemic means a chance to truly start living it.

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.

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.

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”.

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.