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.


2018 Revisited and Looking Toward 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t like the person I’m becoming.

That was a hard sentence to write.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s time to find out.


2017 Goals Revisited and 2018 Goals

Last December I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish over the course of being 30. I turn 31 during the first week of January (the 7th for anyone who likes bestowing good wishes). Despite 2017 being even more of a dumpster fire than many people anticipated, this year was a very good one on a personal level. But according to The Goals, how did I do? Let’s find out.

Read 100 books. Check. Easy check, actually: I completed this goal before starting my new job (uh, spoilers?) in July. I read nowhere near a hundred more books over the course of the second half of the year, though; I’m at 133 books as of this post’s writing.

Start editing a book. This can include a rewrite of an existing book. It’s a stretch to say that I actually edited a book in 2017. However, I did spend both Camp NaNoWriMo sessions planning and doing character development for the two novels I’ve been working on most intensely: Anxiety Girl novel and the Parallel Worlds and Photography novel. I’ve reached a standstill for both of these things, though. Unfortunately my main solution to both of these problems is writing yet another draft. That seems like overkill since this would be the third draft for each novel, though.

Publish something. Uhhhh. *looks around* I made no progress toward this goal.

Go back to Night of Writing Dangerously. Check! It was amazing, as usual. I won a word sprint. One of my fellow @NaNoWordSprints leaders had made me a sushi hat (seriously!). I visited the NaNo office once again and rolled up all the posters for the event. I went to a couple of write-ins, saw some old friends, made some new ones, and finally put names to faces for people I’ve known on the NaNo site for almost a decade. (And occasionally had a few people recognize me, which is still weird.) I talk more about NaNo in this year’s NaNoWriMo summary post.

Travel somewhere new. I went on a trip to Asheville in February, but that’s it in terms of new places. I did return to several previously visited places: Charleston in August for the total eclipse (where clouds blocked our view just minutes before totality), that cabin in western North Carolina for NaNoGiving, and of course San Francisco and Berkeley for Night of Writing Dangerously. Still, this goal was technically fulfilled.

Learn basic Korean. Uhhh, I thought about it? And looked up a couple of sites? Duolingo came out with a Korean course just before NaNoWriMo, but I haven’t had a chance to explore that yet.

Stay employed and decrease debt. This should have been two separate goals, but I didn’t think of that during this time last year. The first half of this year was a financial challenge due to a decrease of freelance work and my roommates moving out. The situation was dire enough that I started looking for an “actual job” and started one in July. I talk about that more in the pre-NaNo State of the Sushi post, and most of the content there is still the same. As for decreasing debt, well, remember barely getting by during the first half of the year? Well, I’m still paying off my 2016 taxes for this reason; when the choice is “pay your rent” or “pay last year’s taxes when you can get an installment plan”, then the first one usually wins.

Begin training for a marathon. Hahahahahahaha I’ve barely thought about this one.

The lack of achieving goals aside, this year was a pretty good year, despite the bumps in the road. That financial groove I mentioned at the end of last year went away in early 2017, when business got really slow, and I was struggling for awhile until starting a full-time job mid-year. But now it’s safe to say that I’m in a good spot, financial and otherwise.

One other thing of note: Remember when I added “Take a class” to my goals in 2016? Despite not doing this in 2016, I did take a class during the first half of 2017 when the freelance business was slow. That class was a course in logic and set theory at my alma mater. I knew the professor and he invited me to sit in on the class. It was a great time and if my schedule were more flexible, I’d sit in on another class in a heartbeat.

Let’s start thinking about 2018 goals, shall we?

Sushi’s 2018 Goals

Read 80 books. “But Sushi,” I hear you say. “You’ve read over 100 books per year for the past four years. Why lower this goal?” Simple: I have less time on my hands than I did when reading a book every two days last year. It took nearly two weeks after starting the new job to finish reading a book. After taking into account the fact that I barely read in October and November, 80 books comes out to eight books a month over the course of ten months. That’s still attainable, especially with audiobooks, but it’s a challenge all the same. Of course, my dream goal will be to reach triple digits again, but we’ll see about that.

Rewrite a book. Whether that’s the third draft of one of the books mentioned above or the roomba novel from November (which people actually want to read for some reason), I hope to write something that isn’t a first draft, something that will take me toward a version I’m happy with.

Travel somewhere new. As I’ve mentioned over the past few years, I’m not especially well-traveled, so this one stays on the list.

Go back to Night of Writing Dangerously. This one is gonna stay here forever.

Stay employed. Yes, this one stays on the list. As long as I don’t screw things up too much, I should be fine here.

Decrease debt. If I keep letting autopay do its thing, two of my student loans will be paid off this year. Woo! I’ll re-evaluate them in the spring and see if I have enough extra cash to pay them off early. Sure, those two small loans won’t make a huge difference in interest in the long run, but I’ll take that psychological win to keep going (and the extra money to dump toward bigger debts).

Begin training for a marathon. Yes, this one stays too. I hope to use this winter’s run commutes as a way to warm up to running in the cold (or what qualifies as cold for someone used to southern weather). And since the real goal is a 50k race (gee, wonder why), the marathon is a good start at around 42k.


2016 Goals Revisited and 2017 Goals

Last December I made a list of things I’d like to do before my 30th birthday in early January. (The 7th, if you like keeping track of these things.) How’d I do?

Read 250 books. Check! I finished this one in October, and I’m ending the year with 275 books read. I also finished reading the entire Baby-Sitters Club series, which is where over half those books came from.

Write 500k words. Check! 250k of those words are from NaNo, as planned, and I sailed past 500k total for 2016 at the end of November. I also reached 2 million lifetime November NaNoWriMo words this year. I forgot about redrafting something outside of November, although I did write a second draft for NaNo this year.

Continue running/staying in shape. I fell off the wagon a little during NaNo, but for the most part, I consider this a success. As for the quantifiable goal, I ran six races, including four 5K races (one in April, two in May, and one in October where I beat my personal best by two minutes), one 5-mile race (April, where I got third in my age bracket), and one half marathon (December).

Decrease my debt. I don’t have actual numbers on this yet, but I have paid everything on time this year (that I know of), so I consider this a success.

Go back to Night of Writing Dangerously. Check! And had the time of my life.

Travel somewhere new. I went to a new Georgia mountain in March, Washington DC in June, a cabin in a new-to-me North Carolina town in November, and a few Bay Area suburbs that were new to me in November. Check.

Take a class of some kind. I dropped the ball on this one. Oops.

Be awesome. Looking at all the above accomplishments, I’d say this one wasn’t a failure at least.

Despite 2016 being a dumpster fire for many people, this year was a good one for me on a personal level. I accomplished a lot of things that I’ve been wanting to do. I’ve settled into a nice groove when it comes to work and paying my bills in a timely fashion.

So what would I like to do in 2017? Let’s see.

Sushi’s 2017 Goals

Read 100 books. Yes, this is way less than my 2016 total, but I currently have no plans to read entire children’s book series in 2017… yet. I’ve read at roughly this pace for the past couple of years after subtracting the BSC books, so this should be challenging but doable.

Start editing a book. This can include a rewrite of an existing book.

Publish something. This can be a short story, an essay, or even a novel, but I do want to have something published by the end of 2017.

Go back to Night of Writing Dangerously. This is going to stay here forever, let’s be honest.

Travel somewhere new. I’m not particularly well-traveled, so this stays on the list.

Learn basic Korean. My mom keeps talking about going to Korea to visit some of her family. I don’t want to go to a new place and not speak the language, so getting started on learning the language will be my 2017 mission.

Stay employed and decrease debt. Because this has been a challenge some years, it stays.

Begin training for a marathon. I was considering running a full marathon in 2017, but most of the ones I could get to easily are in March (meaning lots of winter training) or October/November (NaNo season and summer training). Running a marathon has been on my bucket list for years, and while I could theoretically start training now for a March 2017 marathon, I’d much rather do a little more winter training so I can learn to adapt first. In either case, something has to give, and I need to figure out what.

You might notice that there’s no yearlong word count tracker on the goal list like there was in 2016. There’s a good reason for that: I want to concentrate more on editing than pure output this year. Tracking all my writing this year has taught me a lot, but now it’s time for more dedicated, refined writing practice.

Here’s hoping that 2017 will be even better, both for me and on a worldwide scale.


Writing 500,000 words in 2016

I mentioned in my 2016 goals post that I want to write 500,000 words in 2016. That’s half a million words, which sounds a little daunting even to me. It’s not the numbers. If I write my anticipated goal of 250,000 words in November, that leaves less than 750 words per day for the rest of the year. That’s less than 25,000 words per non-NaNo month. Come on, self. You can write 25k in less than a day.

The challenging part, as always, is making writing a habit. I’ve been terrible at making writing a habit, something that I don’t think about doing. In the same way that I go to the bathroom immediately upon getting out of bed, then make breakfast and tea, writing should come just as naturally. I want to sit down at the computer and start writing without thinking about it.

I plan on tracking my writing progress across four areas in 2016:

  • Fiction (NaNo novels, anything else that I make up)
  • Posts to this blog
  • Major updates to Wikiwrimo (more than correcting a few typos or updating a region’s page, at least)
  • My paper journals

The paper journal progress will be the hardest to track, as I don’t fancy counting up the words every day. I’ll probably do that for the first few entries, then take an average and use that for convenience. After all, if something is convenient, I’m more likely to continue doing it.

And because I love accountability, you can follow along and hold me to this goal. I’m tracking my writing progress on a spreadsheet created by @HillaryDePiano, the Northeast New Jersey NaNo ML. You can view my 2016 spreadsheet here and follow along, then poke me with sticks if I get more than a few days behind. You can also get your own spreadsheet from that link. Since the spreadsheet will think I’m behind all year long until November, I’m using the monthly goals as a progress benchmark until NaNo.

So why am I doing this? I have no idea how much I write outside of NaNo novels. Sure, the notebooks pile up and I could go back and collect word counts of every post here I’ve written this year, but that doesn’t give me the whole picture. I want that whole picture so I can try to improve as a writer and hopefully turn writing into a profession. Since I thrive on accountability (and okay, not disappointing people), sharing my progress will keep me going. It worked for my very first NaNo novel, after all.

Besides that, I just counted one page’s words in my current paper journal. 220 words. Even with smaller notebooks than this current large one, that’s still 3-4 pages per day, depending on that specific notebook’s words per page. I’ve written something in there all but one day in December as an attempt to rebuild the habit lost during NaNo. Sounds like it’s working so far.

Let’s do this… and then set a bigger goal for 2017.