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Tahani Made the Right Choice in The Good Place

Note: This post contains major spoilers for the end of The Good Place. Yes, the very end.

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Reviews Uncategorized

The Best of What I’m Reading: Late 2020 and Early 2021

The beginning of 2021 has been excellent for reading, not just for the quantity but the quality as well. In fact, the time since my last book review post — written around the time I started my current job — has been full of good books with few true flops. Since there are so many books to cover I’ll just summarize the books with the highlights… even if that means most of the books.

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The Future of Wikiwrimo: I Need Your Help

Wikiwrimo has come a long way from its first edit almost a decade ago. What started out as an longtime unemployed recession grad’s side project has evolved into a 2,000+ page labor of love documenting almost everything about NaNoWriMo’s history, culture, and lore. Back then, much of NaNoWriMo history and culture got wiped every year, and it was easy to lose track of what year such-and-such happened. Past winner certificates and icons. Word crawls. Regions.

It truly is a labor of love. I pay for the site’s hosting and have made over half the edits on the wiki. To be honest I’m a little surprised that number isn’t significantly higher since it feels higher sometimes (although it could be thanks to spam edits). I’ve dug through the Wayback Machine, old emails, old forum posts, personal photos, Discord servers, social media posts, annual reports, tax information, and so much more to collect any and all NaNoWriMo-related information.

I don’t say all this to complain, but to point out a few problems with this setup.

One, the site was designed to be a community wiki for anyone to edit, not just my views on NaNoWriMo. Yes, I can edit anyone’s edits, but anyone else can edit mine. One of the things I made sure to mention during my virtual world tour if people recognized my name was that yes, I’m the person behind Wikiwrimo, and yes they can add to it, but I understand if they wait until December. This leads to another question lurking in the back of my mind that I’ll leave unaddressed for now: who else cares?

Two, there’s no Plan B. As the pandemic has shown, every plan needs a Plan B. Wikiwrimo currently has no Plan B in case I’m hit by a bus or am otherwise incapacitated. If something were to happen to me, the site could die too. That’s a decade’s worth of research, writing, and passion down the drain. It would potentially be recoverable through the Wayback Machine, and I do keep some backups, but there’s no human backup with the knowledge. I am the weakest link to this project, and that’s a dangerous position to be in.

Three, I’m drowning. As I’ve talked about before, there’s a lot to juggle and only so much time. Productivity experts will parrot out that you make time for the things you want to do, and that’s true to an extent. Like being frugal with money, there’s only so much you can do to make the best of your time after you’ve prioritized the big expenses (or time sinks). I make time for my work because it brings in money, we’re stuck in a capitalist regime, and I have financial goals but no Bank of Mom and Dad to lean on. I make time for the wiki because I’ve poured over half my life into the NaNoWriMo community and believe the site has become the best resource out there for Wrimos to learn about NaNo’s history and terms. Heck, Wikiwrimo becomes a second part-time job for a month or two each year when I’m updating all 669 (as of 2020) regions with the previous year’s MLs and regional stats.

In my recent Wikiwrimo adventuring, I noticed that a lot of articles haven’t been updated since 2016 or 2017. Coincidentally, this is around the time I started working more and acquiring a more active social life all around the same time, practically running myself thin to do everything and somehow failing at everything at the same time. I’ve set aside my own goals, like finishing my novel edits, to take a break after burning myself out after marathon editing sessions. This isn’t a sustainable lifestyle, nor is it a sustainable way to run a community site.

So here’s where I ask: I need help.

I genuinely appreciate everyone who had made the other half of the non-spam contributions, even if it felt small to you. Everything you added was something I didn’t have to hunt down and add myself. You are what make the wiki and the wider NaNo community what it is. Thank you.

In order for the wiki to be a growing and thriving resource that remains sustainable, it needs more than one person making the bulk of the content. I don’t expect anyone else to pour as much time into this as I have, but the past few years have made clear that I can’t do this alone anymore.

So what can you do? Here are a few things.

If you see something that’s out of date, update it! All you have to do is create an account.

Tell your friends about the site. Your ML. Your fellow Wrimo friends.

Check out the to-do list and see what you can add. It’s woefully incomplete but it’s something.

Check out the incomplete articles and see what you can add.

Check out articles like the main NaNoWriMo article and see if you can flesh out the history section or anything else where the article looks like it just ends several years ago.

Hopefully, we can build a site that can live long-term and work for the wider Wrimo community. Together.

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Life Uncategorized

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.

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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?