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Posts Tagged ‘priorities’

Him: “Yeah, I went to the movies this past weekend, it was my fun thing for the month.”

Me: “You only do one fun thing per month?”

Him: “Well, it’s probably more like every other week, but yeah.”

Me: “Oh. But don’t you want to spend time with your friends?”

Him: “I’m kind of a Lone Wolf.”

Me: “Uh huh….”

Him: “I don’t have time to have a social life like you do.”

Me: “Hmm. I will ignore your condescending tone and actually think about this.”

So yes, I am lucky to have the time and energy to maintain the social life I do. And having had to jumpstart it twice in the last three years (yippee!), I’ve collected a lot of experience and information about making friends, and having friends, and what friendship can mean, and what can go wrong in a friendship, and what I want. And I have a bunch of theories about friendship and social dynamics that I occasionally trot out. (I want to say I bring them out at dinner parties, but I am never actually invited to dinner parties.)

Anyway, here are two myths about friendship that I’ve been thinking about recently:

Myth #1: Everyone has a lot of friends and a swinging social life.

I don’t know why I ever believed this one, but maybe it’s a weird remnant from high school or something? Anyway, as is becoming the norm for me, I’ve been meeting a lot of people, and as I talk to all these people, I’ve recognized a thread that keeps returning.

Not everyone has a lot of friends. And a lot of people are kind of sort of lonely. A lot of these people are really busy in their professional lives, and, like the guy in the conversation above, they don’t feel they have the time to prioritize friendship. Some of them don’t really know how to be a friend. Some of them don’t really understand how one goes about making new friends. Some of them feel stuck.

Of course, the amount of ideal social activity varies from person to person. And there are plenty of people who are content with their social lives. But this isn’t all people.

If you are unhappy with your social life or if your life is kind of unbalanced right now, you are not alone.

Myth #2: Having friendships and an active social life just kind of happens.

I don’t know why I ever believed this one either. Because oh my gosh, maintaining a busy social life is A LOT OF WORK.

I know, tiniest violin, right? I’m not saying this is something warranting complaint, but it is simply fact that it takes a fair amount of effort. Maintaining social ties takes work. Making new friends takes work. Keeping in touch takes work. People say all the time how bad they are at keeping in touch, and the reason that’s something it’s even possible to be bad at is because it requires thought and action and time.

And of course, when you’re kickstarting your social life, it takes even more work. Or, um, when you’re running your social life close to capacity. Which, yes, is what I’m doing right now, and so I’ve been feeling like I’m running behind, and like I always have messages I need to answer, and occasionally I forget them because my brain cannot hold all the information it needs to hold, and I can almost always make time, but that works exactly the way it sounds, with a whole bunch of effort put into somehow making that time materialize. And then once in a while I have no plans and I don’t have to schedule or coordinate or drive for two hours or find parking or figure out an activity or restaurant suggestion or communicate clearly and instead I can sit on my couch with Nala on my feet and eat ice cream and watch Star Trek and that is the best thing ever.

Have I mentioned I’m just the tiniest bit tired?

It’s completely worth it, or I wouldn’t be doing it. The rewards are incalculable. But I have also realized that five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. It would have been actually impossible for me. Because the only way I can keep this up is by communicating as clearly as possible and asking for what I need and sometimes saying no and not moving heaven and earth when the logistics are really complicated but instead just accepting this isn’t the right time. The only way it works is if I can trust my friends to take care of themselves the way I’m doing my best to take care of myself. The only way I can do everything I want to do and spend time with everyone I want to spend time with is by accepting that in the process, I’m not going to be perfect.

I couldn’t have done those things five years ago. And as a result, I might have been a bit of a Lone Wolf. I didn’t really like being a Lone Wolf. It was lonely, and also I didn’t have as many choices, and also when someone behaved poorly, there was more incentive to ignore that instead of taking care of myself.

But no longer. When the particular Lone Wolf at the beginning of this post spent the conversation putting me down and proceeded to make a “joke” telling me I needed more exercise (implying what? that I’m fat? really?), I was completely happy to run, not walk, the other direction.

I’ve got better places to be.

San Francisco at dusk.

San Francisco at dusk.

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Today I was going to write about my hopes for 2015, maybe talk about some goals, a little bit of what I anticipated.

And then Tuesday happened.

And so this post is going to be completely different from if I had written it on Monday.

At the beginning of November, I went to a big party. One of my closest friends was there, and I sat next to him by the fire pit in an attempt to not freeze to death (outdoor parties in November are a thing here in Northern California, but they possibly shouldn’t be), and we were chatting, and all of a sudden I blurted out, “I’m really unhappy.”

And he said, “Yes, I know,” not in a dismissive way but in an “I understand where you’re coming from” way. And we talked about why I was unhappy, and how I wanted to be anywhere but where I was, and then he said to me, “You know, Amy, wherever you go, you’ll take yourself with you.”

And because I trust my friend, and because he was totally right, I took his words to heart, and I kept doing what I had already been doing, which was trying to figure out some filters and make new friends and find a way to be happy where I was right then. I had been feeling so frustrated, but the simple act of stating my unhappiness and being heard with compassion healed something I didn’t even know needed healing, and I began to feel better. Literally that night.

Then I went to World Fantasy, and spending time with my friends there helped too, and I started being able to see the progress I was making, which is always heartening. And at a certain point, I decided I’d most likely stay in my apartment another year when my lease was up, as long as the rent didn’t go up too high. I didn’t want to move for the third time in a two-year period, I really like my apartment, and I was okay with the way my life here was going. Happy, even.

And then on Tuesday I got the notice about how much my rent will be increasing. It is a significant increase. Much higher than I was hoping. The local rents did another upwards spike sometime in the few months since I last checked. So the decision of whether to stay or to go is no longer an easy one. And the landscape of 2015 has suddenly become less certain.

I was stressing out about this, and I asked another friend of mine, “Why do I have to keep solving the same problem over and over?” And he said, “Conventional wisdom suggests you haven’t solved it if it keeps returning.” And that is exactly it. I have tried to solve the issue of my living situation, but so far, I’ve only succeeded in finding short-term solutions. And at some point, I’d really like to find a more sustainable solution.

(By the by, I have to take a moment to appreciate how incredible it is to have these friends who say wise and helpful and insightful things. It makes such a big difference. So there is one of my wishes for 2015, that I can be a friend like that too.)

In some ways, I don’t even want to talk about this because I’ve had this new information for two days, and I have no idea what I’m going to do. I don’t want anyone who lives local to me to start feeling sad prematurely, and I don’t want anyone who lives in Seattle or LA to get excited for no reason. I’m back in the liminal space again, and when I think of the future, it branches off in several directions, and I don’t know which direction I’m going to take. I don’t know if I’ll choose another short-term solution or if I’ll try something new.

But I am talking about it because I don’t know to such an extent that I can’t toss off a post about what I think 2015 will be as if I don’t have this decision on my mind. And honestly, 2015 has already been defying definition. I spent the last two months going from book idea to book idea, having my travel plans for next year morph and change, waiting to hear back about things, getting a lot of maybes and I’ll know soons.

Here are the predictions I can make about 2015: I will write. I will blog. I will query. I will read. I will sing. Nala will be adorable. I will go to Detroit in a couple of weeks, and I will go to the Rainforest Writers Retreat at the end of February. I will probably take a trip out of the country. I will hopefully keep strengthening my ankle. I will spend time with my friends.

By the time I leave for my writing retreat, I will have made a decision about where I’m going to live. I don’t know what that decision will be, but I know I’ll make it.

I guess my biggest wish for myself for 2015 is this: that I stay centered and keep moving forward. Forward in my writing, forward in my health, forward in my relationships, and forward in becoming more and more fully me.

I wish the same to all of you. May you continue moving forward. And may we all have a very happy New Year!

Holding the sun. Photo by Alexa Rubinov.

Holding the sun. Photo by Alexa Rubinov.

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Now that 2014 only has a few days remaining, I guess I can talk about it more or less authoritatively. For me, the year was mixed in that it presented many challenges, several of which I’d rather not have faced, given my druthers. But I did learn a great deal of important lessons from these challenges, so I can’t really wish they never happened either. And the news has been on the bleak side for the last several months.

On the positive side of the scale, I accomplished a lot of my goals this year, I had plenty of fun, and here at the end of it, I’m fairly happy. So: mixed, but on the whole, positive.

Here, then, is what happened in 2014:

Nala: Nala is first, because I’m so pleased with how the year went for her. She was having some real problems with separation anxiety last year. In vicious cycle territory, the more I worried about her, the worse her anxiety would get. But I’m happy to say she loves the new apartment, and she seems a lot happier. Someone who hadn’t seen her for a couple of years commented on how much more confident she seems. Also, I gave her Lamb Chop the squeaky toy for Christmas, and we haven’t yet recovered from the excitement.

Nala quickly decamped with Lamb Chop to her Pile O' Toys.

Nala quickly decamped with Lamb Chop to her Pile O’ Toys.

Writing: I wrote and revised Beast Girl, and had a focused, positive writing experience. I definitely feel this is my best work to date. I reached my target number of queries for Academy of Forgetting. I planned my next novel project, and hopefully I’ll have a rough outline done by the end of the year.

I kept the blog going with two essays per week.

I networked like whoa, attending the following events: ConFusion (where I also did panels), Rainforest Writing Retreat, Fogcon, Norwescon, Nebula Weekend, WorldCon in London, Convolution, and World Fantasy Convention. I also got to know my local community of writers a bit better, attended several friends’ readings, and made it out to the LitCrawl.

Travel: Well, I didn’t have any travel this year that wasn’t in some way related to writing, so I guess it’s a good thing I like writing and writers as much as I do. That said, I got to spend a lovely week post-move-and-rough-draft-of-Beast-Girl in Seattle, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones (and attending Norwescon, because multitasking). And I spent a week and a half in the UK after Worldcon, getting some always enjoyable London time and finally making it out to Wales for the first time.

Entertainment: This was a Year of Entertainment for me. I went see twelve live concerts, which made me super happy. I also went to nineteen movies in the theaters (as well as three old movies being screened again: The Princess Bride, Groundhog Day, and Casablanca, so make that twenty-two!), which is an extremely high number for me. I think this can be explained partly by the fact there was several movies I actively wanted to see this year (which isn’t always the case) and partly by the fact that I have more movie friends now, which means I’m more likely to go even if I care less. I went to see at least seventeen plays and musicals, including three readings. And I went to the opera! I actually don’t really understand how I had all the time to do these things, especially when I think of all the board games I somehow found time to play. I’d say the year’s new favorite game has been Hanabi, but we also found time for several games of Battlestar Galactica, two games of Game of Thrones, a game of Robinson Crusoe, a couple games of Firefly, and many others. And then when I was hiding at home and recharging from the massive outlay of social energy all these other activities represent, I read and caught up on various TV series. (Orphan Black, hooray! Star Trek: The Next Generation, more hooray!)

Social Stuff: Um, I was busy with this too. I met many new people. Many many. I said yes to a lot of invitations. I issued a lot of invitations. I went to a lot of parties. I joined two book clubs. There was a fair amount of upheaval. I have several close friends who I either met sometime this year or became much closer with over the course of the year, which makes me very happy. I lost a dear friend to cancer. I missed my friends who are far away. I had a few nice reconnections with people I hadn’t seen in a very long time. I worked on developing my filter system. I learned a lot about who I am and what I want.

Other Stuff: I moved. I love my new apartment; I don’t like how much more I am driving, which is partly caused by the move and partly caused by having more friends who live farther away anyway. I threw two parties, including my first solo hosting experience (and my second). I baked I don’t know how many batches of brownies. I continued volunteering for the play reading committee. My ankle behaved better, which means I could do more, which is perhaps partly why I tried to do SO MANY THINGS. I began getting back into good vocal shape and learned several new songs. I went to the San Jose Museum of Art for the first time. I played bocce ball for the first time. I was on a panel at WorldCon for the first time. I went to the Hugo’s Loser Party for the first time. I flew in a small plane for the first time. I had peanut butter pie for the first time. I was buried in sand for the first time. I went to a club alone for the first time. I learned to tie a tie (and by now have probably forgotten again).

After all this review, I can conclude by saying that 2014 was certainly a BUSY year. I’m not deeply relieved to see the end of 2014, but I am looking forward to finding out what 2015 holds in store.

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Once upon a time there was a whisper, a wish really, running in the back of my head: “Surely there must be something better than this?” I was like a bird captured in a trap, struggling until my body was breaking and I was completely exhausted. And I was still in the freaking trap.

Once upon a time I simply couldn’t continue, and the whisper became a declaration: “I will believe there is something better than this even though that doesn’t even seem possible.” I went all in. I walked away for the first time, and I began to dismantle my life, piece by painstaking piece.

Things got worse.

And worse.

The forest, the cave, whatever you want to call it, it was so dark. And the journey was so slow. And I was afraid, and I doubted.

Photo Credit: eflon via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: eflon via Compfight cc

One of my greatest fears over the last several years has been that it would all be for nothing. That I wouldn’t be able to change myself or my life. That there really wasn’t anything better. That all of the time and effort and my suffering and other people’s suffering, that all the sacrifices I was making, would be fruitless. That my lifelong belief that more is possible for us than we realize would be proven wrong. That in my struggles, I’d end up making everything worse, and then I’d have to live with that.

I was afraid, and I clung onto my belief that I didn’t even really believe in like it was a lifeline. There must be something better than this. And I can do this. I will do this.

I won’t give up, I’ll keep going forward no matter what.

When I think back on 2014 in the future, I will remember it as a difficult year, yes, but I will also remember it as the year I left that cave.

Last month, I wrote about being stuck, and I said: “I’m not waiting for doom to fall down onto my head like an anvil.” I looked at that sentence after I wrote it, and I thought, “Oh shit. Oh shit. That is actually true. I don’t feel like that at all.”

What has changed? I have learned how to prioritize taking care of myself, and as a result, I no longer feel powerless. I don’t take on other people’s problems. When a person repeatedly treats me poorly, I don’t deal with them anymore, and honestly, I don’t care who it is. Because I deserve better than that, and I can have better than that. I work hard to surround myself with people who not only care about me but who are actively good for me. I come home to my lovely apartment with my sweet little dog and my piano and my books and my bathtub and my warm blankets, and for the first time in my life, I feel safe.

So now I know. There was something better the whole time, and I know because I’m living in it.

I’m so relieved. I’m so grateful.

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I read some writing advice recently that I think is useful both for writers, and for the people who would like to understand what our lives are like a bit more clearly:

“Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit during the first 10 years. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.”

–ANDRE DUBUS

This is so very true. Nobody cares deeply about my writing except me. Which is why I can be kind of a hard-ass when it comes to my schedule. And why I care so very much about my priorities and goals. Because if I don’t care, that’s it. They will never happen. End of story.

Becoming good at things takes a long time. Even if some of it comes easy to you, it takes a long time, just less of a long time. It took me twelve years to become as good at singing as I wanted to be, and really more like fifteen to get it completely secured. I took off maybe a year during that period of my life, and the rest of the time, I sang and sang and sang some more. Even when I knew I sucked. Particularly when I knew I sucked.

This is how Nala practices getting better at writing. Or maybe how she practices becoming even cuter? Unclear.

This is how Nala practices getting better at writing. Or maybe how she practices becoming even cuter? Unclear.

When I first started writing, I wasn’t in it for the long haul. I don’t know if you can be, really, right when you’re starting out. There’s an experimental phase, when you try something out. See if you like it. See if you’re at all good at it. See if it has any meaning to you. See if this is a thing to which you can devote yourself. Because not everything will be. And if it’s not for you, then it’s not only okay to quit but a good idea. This level of commitment is not for everyone.

I noticed the shift when this changed for me. When writing became a true calling. When I realized I’d be writing anyway, even if I couldn’t turn it into a career. When writing became less about the desperation of wanting a particular project to sell and more about doing the work. When the writing became more interesting and all-consuming than what would happen afterwards. When whether this novel sells or not became less important because I’m already thinking about the next several potential novels to write.

Mind you, I’m not saying that I don’t care about my career or that I don’t care about publishing my novels. I do care, and I take the necessary steps towards that goal. But I care about the writing itself more, and knowing this makes doing the business and career stuff much easier. I want to become better not so I will then become published (although that would be great) but because I’m interested in becoming better for its own sake. I no longer have to look for external validation to reinforce my commitment. I’m committed, full stop.

The early stages of becoming a writer are so very much about not quitting. And putting in time and practice, and finishing things. And finding a way to hang in there through the rejection and the failure and the process of becoming better. And falling in love with telling stories, over and over again.

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Joining the Dance

Okay, I have a great quote for you guys today. No surprise, I found it on Jonathan Carroll’s Facebook page, which remains a great inspiration.

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Wilson Watts

Photo Credit: CEBImagery.com via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: CEBImagery.com via Compfight cc

I’ve been thinking about breaking up this quote onto different pieces of paper and posting it around my living room. We shall see, though, because I don’t want my living room to remind me of an inspirational calendar. Well, at least not an overly cheesy inspirational calendar.

Anyway. I am of course right in the thick of a long, extended period of change, and within such periods, there are spikes of bigger change and then those times when you can get a little rest. I’m definitely in the middle of a spike at present. And I’ve been thinking about what I want my life to look like.

I have a few thoughts about creating a life vision, if you will.

First, a life vision will be constantly evolving. That’s in its nature. As we learn new things, as we experience setbacks, as circumstances change, as who we are changes, our life vision will shift and grow to fit the present time. How many times have I thought I wanted a particular thing in my life only to find out once I had it that I didn’t want it after all? Enough times to know this is a thing that happens, that’s for sure. But it can be difficult to allow our vision to change because it’s so easy to get attached to the old way of thinking.

Second, as much as I wish I could think or imagine everything out ahead of time, that is not necessarily the best strategy. Hence the above quote. I am a planner and a thinker, so that’s where my comfort zone lies. But sometimes we have to take a leap and see what happens, and then adapt to it. Sometimes we have to try things out to experience them for ourselves. I feel like this can be especially powerful when something isn’t working. Sometimes when we can loosen up our thinking, we find a completely different solution or direction that wasn’t in the original vision at all.

Third, I’m interested in the inevitable biases that creep into our visions of what our lives could be. To me, an obvious one is that of our family of origin. (Another one is the broader society in which we are raised.) When we’re kids, we learn what is possible by watching our parents and close family groups. That sets our basis for what is “normal.” As adults then, we are constantly challenged to learn from our surroundings and seek out exposure to different people and ideas. We can use these to disrupt our original basis for understanding reality in order to create visions that more truly reflect who we are and what we’d like to see for ourselves.

There are so many ideas in our brains, and we haven’t necessarily had a chance to deeply examine them. What it means to be a certain age. What it means to be a certain gender. How we choose to express ourselves. What goals are worthy of pursuit. What gives life its meaning. How we run our social lives. And lots of smaller stuff, like the proper way to bake cookies and what kind of food is comforting and the amazing sweetness of fluffy poodley little dogs and habits of making lists and what kind of stuff you like to do for fun.

A lot of these ideas are great and useful and practical and work really well. But sometimes they don’t all work so well. And sometimes even when they do work well, they act as barriers between ourselves and other people with different biases. Sometimes they even work as ways of shutting down empathy. And sometimes they can keep our life visions more limited than they’d otherwise have to be.

So right now I’m doing my best to put at least part of my inner planner on the back burner and enjoy plunging into the change. I don’t know exactly what will happen next, but then, right now, that’s the entire point.

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Around my birthday, I received a request to write on the blog about my thoughts on aging. It’s a fabulous topic but oh so loaded, so I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about what to say.

I could spend the next five hundred words dancing around the topic, and we all might be a little more comfortable if that’s what I did (I certainly would), but here’s the truth. My views on aging are inescapably tied to my own present experience, and my own present experience is as a woman of a certain age, and a single woman, no less. And what society and the media tells me about women like me is not palatable. I have to expend a certain amount of energy rejecting the negative messages I’m receiving, and even so, I sometimes internalize them by accident.

This is not pretty, but it is reality.

Like it or not, we live in a society that places a very high value on youth and on physical appearance. Women in particular receive constant messages from a very young age that their primary value comes from their appearances, appearances that will inevitably, because of our cultural beauty standard, fade with age. Aging, then, forces us to redefine our own value and place in the world. Women are also more likely to be defined in media by their relationships to others. By a certain age, if they’re in the movies at all, they’re most often somebody’s mother or somebody’s wife, and beyond these roles, they aren’t very fleshed out. (Television seems to do a bit better, which is why I adore Gilmore Girls, for example, in which the main character Lorelai, in spite of being a mother, consistently defines herself.)

So there are some obvious problems here, and earlier this year, I began to feel a new uneasiness about my age. I heard a comment about how it’s all downhill for a woman after 30, and I was unable to deflect. So instead I felt anxious and self-conscious about my age, and then I hit a mini-crisis point. A new acquaintance asked me point-blank how old I was, and my knee jerk response was to refuse to answer. That had never been who I was–I’ve never had any problem telling someone how old I am–but in that moment, I saw that it could become who I was, that I had begun to buy into the absurdity of belittling myself because of my age.

I had reached a crossroads, and after some reflection, I realized that no, this was not okay. We have to embrace who we are–ALL of who we are–and our ages are a part of that. There is nothing to be ashamed of there, whatever society may tell us, and if the question is framed in such a way as to create that shame, that’s on the other person. If my answer causes disappointment or judgment, well, that’s not a person who is going to enrich my life in any case.

And I told the acquaintance my age without apology.

When I contemplated which candles to buy for my “Come as You Aren’t” party, I decided to buy 5 and 0 because if I was coming as I wasn’t, I wanted to come older than I am. I wanted to say, my life would be just as awesome the way it is if I were 50. My age does not matter. My life is defined by myself and by the priorities I have carefully chosen. Not by my appearance. Not by my relationships to others. By me.

You know what I'm not thinking here? "Do I look old?" Nah, I'm thinking, lightsabers and tiaras and this is the first time I've worn a tie, oh my!

You know what I’m not thinking here? “Do I look old?” Nah, I’m thinking, lightsabers and tiaras and this is the first time I’ve worn a tie, oh my!

And I like being who I am. I feel more attractive than I did ten years ago, and I feel more comfortable in my own skin. I have such a greater understanding of who I am. When I look in the mirror, I don’t think, “Wow, I look old.” I think, “Hey, I look happy today” or “I’m tired, I need to start going to bed earlier” or “I need to open my mouth more vertically for that belted note” or even “I like the way I look.” Heaven forbid.

We think so much about age as a physical thing, and in particular how it affects the way we look. But part of age is very much an internal thing. Sometimes I feel vastly old, and sometimes I feel bright and new. (This feeling may or may not be correlated to how much sleep I’ve been getting.) Sometimes I have the enthusiasm of a five-year-old, and other times I have the world-weariness of a sixty-five-year-old. I can be as naive as a ten-year-old and as wise as a seventy-year-old. All on the same day!

Much more important to keep in mind, then, is a commitment to openness, to change, to flexibility and resilience. Much more important to cultivate is a sense of humor. Much more important to remember is to see the beautiful parts of the world as well as the painful parts in order to keep some lightness of spirit.

Because in the end what matters is not our age but who we have chosen to be in whatever time we’ve had.

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