Here we are again. 2021 was… a year to say the least. It started with joy at Georgia doing the right thing in the Senate runoffs and feeling like my vote mattered, along with the possibility of getting a vaccine in the near future and putting an end to this hellscape. It ended with a Senate that can’t do a damn thing, a new and potentially more concerning variant, and wondering how much longer I can put living life on hold.
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 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.
So I bet you’re wondering: what on earth have I been up to lately? If you guessed “an awful lot of things that aren’t writing”, you would be correct. Add in the fact that I’ve had only one weekend free of social plans since mid-April, and I am so ready for some kind of break.
Since 2016 is almost halfway over and I was going to write a life update post anyway, let’s take a look at my original goals for this year and see how I’ve been faring on those goals.
(Fun fact: I originally wrote this post last Friday morning, when I had no plans that weekend. That changed by noon, when an impromptu trip to Washington D.C.–yes, over nine hours from Atlanta–started to brew. Well, that escalated quickly.)
Read 250 books. While I’m technically on track for this goal after taking twelve months into consideration, once we take out October and November, I’m already behind on my book goal despite already reading 117 books so far this year. Yes, I realize this is like whining about being behind on NaNo with a 300k word goal, but at least I’m aware of my whining. This is particularly concerning at the moment not just because of the number (although I still have plenty of BSC books to read and catch up on) but because of my foot-high pile of books to read with deadlines. I currently have six books checked out, as well as one more at the library awaiting pickup today. That stack is about a foot high and all due back in the next month, and since most of these requests are wildly popular, someone else is on the hold list behind me and I can’t just renew the book. This is where some hypothetical weekend free of plans comes in. Read all the things!
Write 500k words. Um, about that… The truth is I haven’t done as much writing as I had anticipated so far this year. My original plan was to write 250,000 words in November, with the other 250k coming from 25k per month for ten months. This gives me some wiggle room, especially with my self-imposed break from writing in February. But considering I’ve reached 25k only twice all year long, and those months were a struggle, I’m still pretty behind on this goal. Fortunately I have plenty to write about in June, both in my paper journal and in here. See, having a social life does help sometimes! (As long as you can write about it later.) While I worked on Wikiwrimo for Camp NaNoWriMo and added 50,000 more characters to the wiki, I’m not sure what to work on for July camp.
Continue running/staying in shape. Okay, so I haven’t been working out all the time, and there are definitely some weeks where I’ve fallen off the running wagon, especially with summer making its way to the south. (I was working up a sweat walking to the coffee shop where I’m writing this. It’s 9am on June 3. That’s not cool, weather. Literally.) I’ve done a 5-miler, an obstacle course 5K, and two regular 5K races so far this year and it’s only June. I even finished third in my age bracket for a couple of those runs and did a 5k under 30 minutes (29m48.8s)! I also registered for my very first half marathon in December, something that really should have happened sooner considering one of my work clients is a running website. The real challenge will be training for that half marathon in November on top of writing 250k, especially with three of my November weekends already booked five months before NaNo. Gulp.
Stay employed. Decrease my debt. Check! It’s a good thing I did include these. You can never be too sure, especially being between clients early on in the year. But for the moment I’m pretty confident in maintaining these goals.
Go back to the Night of Writing Dangerously. Barring any major money issues, I’m still planning to attend NaNoWriMo’s Night of Writing Dangerously this year. It’ll be my 15th NaNo! What better way to celebrate than with a bunch of fancily dressed writers and laptops in San Francisco?
Travel somewhere new. Check! I technically traveled somewhere new with Trail Magic, which counts. But then I went to Washington D.C. on a whim last week, which definitely counts.
Take a class of some kind? Be awesome? I haven’t taken a class despite my desire to do so. As for being awesome, well…
So what else have I been up to? This is one of those questions where you know everything you want to say in response and then answer with “not much” when finally asked. I won Camp NaNoWriMo with a last-minute rush to the finish line. I’m also planning on doing Camp NaNoWriMo in July but have no idea what to work on yet. I showed one of my past college professor how Facebook worked. I went on an impromptu trip to Washington D.C. with a friend last weekend. I also attended Momocon for the first time thanks to a friend with an extra pass. Despite not being a super anime or comic nerd, I still enjoyed myself. (And @tiakall won a game! True story: we went to check out the gaming area and next thing we knew, we heard her name announced… by a Wrimo we both knew.) A lot has been happening and I’m barely keeping up with it all. That’s how life goes sometimes, right?
Up sometime in the near future: What I’ve been reading over the past month or so.
When I was thinking up my goals for 2016, I couldn’t help but notice how similar the goals were to my 2015 goal list. This is partly intentional: I want to continue reading and writing and running and who knows what else. While these are all admirable goals, one thing that crossed my mind was whether I was stuck in a rut.
The case for it is clear. My typical day looks like this: get up, eat breakfast, do work, grab lunch, more work, eat dinner, do whatever for the evening, shower, bed. Almost the same thing, day after day, with little variation during the week. Occasionally I go to a write-in during NaNo or a board game group or an evening run when the weather isn’t miserable. The weekends are reserved for recuperating from the week of work: more focused writing, catching up on reading, cleaning, and whatever else comes up, then getting bored on Sunday night because how can I relax even more. It’s easy to do this, week in, week out.
Keeping up the same weekly routine makes getting stuck in a rut even easier, doing the same things over and over until they become second nature and then, well, not do much else. Even between jobs, I maintained a routine similar to the one mentioned above, but more than that, I’ve been making habits out of some things. I’ve been making reading a habit over the past couple of years, and considering I read zero books in 2013 (yes, zero), this is one habit I’m rather proud of now. I’m trying, time and time again, to make writing a habit that I don’t have to think about before doing. And now I’m trying to make running a habit, although this habit may not stick through the winter.
But now what? I find myself thinking on a regular basis. I pride myself on being interested in many things, and even though that interest list isn’t quite as extensive as some people I know, there’s still a decent amount of variety. There are also many other things I’d love to dabble in but haven’t for one reason or another: knitting (although I’ve probably forgotten how to knit), programming, exploring new places, traveling, dabbling in various historical eras and civilizations, watching the many well-known movies I’ve never watched, expanding my social circles,… and the list goes on and on.
While some of these things are dependencies (can’t travel without the money to do so, for instance), I can do many of these items on their own. I don’t need any extra resources beyond time and energy to improve my programming skills, nor do I need to spend much money to get back into knitting. Unfortunately, none of these things can be combined as an attempt at multitasking. (Knitting and movies can in theory, but I’ve tried. I stopped knitting ten minutes into the movie.)
In the grand scheme of the universe, my life isn’t even a blip on the radar. Life is short, so I’m going to get out of this rut and make the most of it. Let’s do more.