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Posts Tagged ‘decisions’

What if you knew you were going to die in a year? Would you be doing anything differently?

I read a New York Times op-ed today on this subject. It’s always a little strange for me to see this presented as wisdom, even though I think it is. It’s strange because I’ve been living my life this way since I was nineteen. It’s strange to think that nineteen-year-old me got something so right.

I spent years thinking my mom was going to die imminently, and then she actually did die. This hammered into me the idea that time is precious. For me, it’s more precious than money. I’ve only had a few jobs that I really, really didn’t find worthwhile, and in those cases I was always planning how to make a change.

And for me, planning means looking at reality as clearly as I can. Not in order to discourage myself (luckily I am something of a natural optimist), but in order to prioritize based on the facts I’ve been able to see. And one of those facts is we’re all going to die someday. Transhuman hopes aside, so far the longest a human has lived is 122 years, and most of us live a lot less than that. We can ignore it, or we can prioritize with this basic fact in mind. I’ve always chosen the latter.

Having lived my entire adult life with my eventual demise in mind, I have the following observations to offer:

  • Living this way can lead to intensity, both of experience and of personality. And if you take it very seriously, as I have, one of the most important lessons to learn is how to both keep it in mind and chill the fuck out.
  • You become very, very good at figuring out what you want, figuring out how to get it, figuring out if you can get it, and letting go of the stuff you either figure out you can’t get or for which you are unwilling to pay the price.
  • The saying “there will be plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead” is only partially true. Time is not just about quantity but also quality, and if you don’t get enough sleep, a lot of that time will be spent in a less pleasant, less mindful, less productive way. Hence sleep remains a valuable use of time.
  • Building connections with people and animals and spending time with them is one of the most valuable uses of time of all.
  • But downtime has its place too. Not everyone can spend every minute of the day being social. Time to rest, to think, to nurture yourself and get to know yourself, even time to goof off, is also worthwhile. And it ultimately helps enrich social interactions, as long as a balance is struck.
  • You will be more likely to favor bold decisions. As long as you can balance those decisions with practicality, they will tend to be some of your favorite things about your life. Once in a while, one of them will go terribly wrong, but since the rest of them are your favorites, it more than evens out.
  • You are inspired to change whatever it is that is holding you back or causing you unhappiness sooner rather than later. Carpe diem, baby.
  • The cliché “It’s about the journey, not the destination” will ring true to you. You’re never sure you’re going to reach the destination, and you also realize so often the destination is a moving target, so you damn well better be enjoying the process.

If I were going to die in a year, here is what I’d do differently. I might choose a different vacation destination. I’d travel a bit more to spend some last quality time with loved ones who don’t live local to me. I’d maybe skip more conventions and opt for more intimate time with writer friends instead. I’d push a little harder to get Beast Girl out to publishers, and I’d think a bit more carefully about which novel I’d write this year. I’d have to do a bit of work to get my affairs in order. I wouldn’t care as much about things like going to the dentist or keeping my place within a certain standard of cleanliness or buying stuff for myself.

I'd still spend just as much time snuggling this shaggy one.

I’d still spend just as much time snuggling this shaggy one.

That’s it, though. I’d spend the bulk of my time the same way. And I can say that confidently for most of the years since I was nineteen. Of course, this is not entirely from the decisions I’ve made. A fair amount of it has come from being extremely lucky.

Still, for me, it’s the easiest way to tell the difference between what I think I should care about and what I actually care about. It’s why I studied music, why I moved to the UK, why I started a business, why I began writing seriously, why I adopted Nala. It is why I write this blog. It is why I spend time with you.

If you knew you were going to die in a year, what would you do differently? What would you keep the same?

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Dating is not Simple

I still talk about dating a fair amount with my friends. We compare notes. We make lists. And whatever our discussion–comparing paid dating sites to free dating sites, considering the virtues and difficulties of meeting people in person instead, considering what traits in a partner are essential and which simply icing, contemplating profile photos–we always tend to hit on one consistent idea: that dating can be really freaking difficult.

There’s this sense of indignation about the whole thing, this semi-random process that is supposed to help you discover this compatible someone. It seems so inefficient! It seems so random! It’s painful to be rejected and it’s painful to be doing the rejecting.

But then I think about what many of us want dating to achieve–to find a life partner–and I’m not surprised it feels complicated and difficult. I am almost more surprised it works at all. It feels like a tall order.

Ferrett wrote a great post about dating last month–The Abandonment Rate, Or: Date More, God, Date More–in which he said:

It took me fifteen years of constant dating before I found the love of my life, and I consider that to be a pretty lucky catch. You? You’re trying for life-changing things. That’s good. Life-changing things involve a lot of perseverance. So keep at it.”

Fifteen years? That’s a fair amount of effort.

My friend has this theory that it is important to know the three things you most want in a partner. It can only be three, and it includes everything from personality traits to likes and dislikes to basic life information. Only three! I was skeptical, but it didn’t matter because I still had to figure out my three. I spent a lot of time coming up with and rejecting and ending up with more than three.

And now, I can’t even remember what I finally settled on. I’m fairly confident one of the three was kindness, but the other two…um….maybe intelligence? I don’t know. The whole exercise felt like boiling something complex down into something so simple it no longer held any meaning.

So then I wrote a list of what I was looking for in a partner, and I let myself write down as many items as I wanted. I put a lot of stuff I thought was important, but I also let myself put down things that seemed silly or trivial or like low-hanging fruit but I still wanted: things like “knows how to dress self for different occasions” (I live in Silicon Valley so this is an actual perk), “has an overlap with my musical taste,” and “not intimidated by Shakespeare.” (Yes, I really put those on my list.)  

I put 59 items on my list. Yes, fifty-nine. A far cry from three. But reading my list now, I keep nodding and saying, “Um, yeah, of course I want that. And that. And that.” It’s not that I felt I needed all 59 things to be perfectly true, and a bunch of them are low bars, but even so. I did want a majority of them.

59. Not really all that simple.

Strangely, I found making that list to be liberating. Because then dating did not have to be simple. It validated my actual experience, which was that finding someone compatible to date wasn’t that straightforward, that there was no algorithm that took all the guesswork out of the equation, that the only real way forward was to meet a bunch of people, and most of them wouldn’t be right, and that would be tiring, and all of this was perfectly normal.

I’m not saying there aren’t things you can do to simplify and streamline the process, or to improve your chances of success. But online dating sites sometimes make it seem like dating is straightforward shopping; you flip through a seemingly infinite catalog of biographies and jokes and photos, you are presented with an array of options, there are percentages and matching protocols that are supposed to help you narrow things down. All very clean until you hit the next part of the process: actually communicating with another human being, a person who can’t be completely boiled down in a few paragraphs and photos and multiple choice questions.

OkCupid.com_website_homepage_screenshot

Looking for a life partner is anything but simple. You’re going to spend A LOT of time with this person. You’re going to make major life decisions with them. You’re going to be influenced by them. You’re going to get to know them very well, and they’re going to know you very well. Your life is going to be changed by being with them. And the process of dating is going to reflect the importance of this decision.

No list, whether of three or of fifty-nine, is ever going to be able to accurately reflect the reality of that decision. Instead we have to get our hands messy and do the work of getting to know other people, and maybe even more importantly, getting to know ourselves.

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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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“You can’t ever know in advance. Big decisions require faith.”

– from S., by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Today I decided where I’m going to live for the next year.

I’ve had to move many times in my life, and as I look for a place, what I’m always waiting for is a certain feeling. It’s a sense of rightness, a sense of “Yes, this is my home.”

There’s nothing mystical about this feeling. I think it happens when enough aspects of a place line up with what I want. I think carefully about I want ahead of time too: how much I’m willing to spend, what features are absolutely non-negotiable (pet-friendly, space for my piano), what features are exciting bonuses (walk-in closets, lots of light).

When I see enough of what I’m looking for, when all the little details filter through my brain, the feeling begins to wash over me. It’s a vision of a future where I can imagine myself being happy and safe, where I can imagine Nala being her usual happy doggie self, where I can see myself writing and making music and being surrounded by friends.

The most important part of home.

The most important part of home.

The build-up to this decision takes forever. Not only do I have to seriously think about what I want, I have to do lots of research, go see a bunch of places, and adjust my expectations according to what’s available. But the decision itself is easy. I just know. I’d decided to take my next home by the end of my tour. All that was left to figure out was the details.

Big decisions can be so overwhelming, because we can’t know. We can’t know how it’s going to work out. We can’t know for sure if we have all the information we need to make the best decision. We can simply try our best to learn the relevant facts and then take the leap.

When I look back, it’s amazing how many of the decisions I’m most happy with in retrospect are ones about which I just knew.

I just knew Nala was my dog.

I just knew I wanted to be a writer.

I just knew I wanted to go to school at UC Santa Cruz.

I’ve just known when I’ve met several of my friends that they were people I wanted to be in my life.

I just knew which writing project to work on right now.

That’s not to say these decisions didn’t also involve dithering. That’s not to say I had no doubts. I dither; it’s part of my process.

But when it came time to commit one way or another, I just knew. And that knowledge gave me the courage to take the necessary leap.

Looking back on your life, when have you just known?

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If you want to get to know someone, take a trip with them. If you really want to get to know them, don’t bring anyone else along, don’t take an all-inclusive guided tour, and either go somewhere that neither of you have been before or somewhere the other person truly loves.

 

Even deciding where to go together can be instructive. Do they want to go camping? On a cruise? On a beach vacation or to a theme park? Are they attracted to big cities or locations off the beaten track? Close by or international? Low key tourism or adventure travel? Or do they want to do all of the above? (This would be me, although it changes over time.) Are they willing to save up for a more expensive trip? Do they talk about how they’ve always wanted to travel but haven’t? Are they completely uninterested in leaving their region/state/country? Do they have a dream of someplace they’ve always wanted to go but haven’t visited yet?

Egypt, outside of Cairo

The obvious reason that traveling with another person causes you to get to know them is the vast amount of time you’ll end up spending together. This is doubly true if the trip involves lots of travel time (by car, train, plane, bus) during which there aren’t many distractions and you don’t have much to do besides be together. You’ll probably end up talking a fair amount. You’ll see this person at all times of day and in many different moods (excited, tired, cranky, hungry, interested, relaxed, etc.). It’s harder to hold onto a public persona under these circumstances; the mask tends to slip.

You’ll discover, if you don’t know already, how they interact with the world around them. How do they respond to trying something new? What about something new that they’re trying just because you want to? What activities do they end up actually advocating for or spending time on? Which ones can they obviously not stand? How much downtime or quiet time do they need? How do they react to crowds? Discomfort? Fatigue? How engaged are they in what they’re doing?

Traveling also requires many decisions, and watching what someone decides, how they decide it, and how they try to communicate with you can also be very revealing. When and what are you going to eat? How are you going to find a restaurant? On what activities will you spend your time? What souvenirs do you buy? Even the timing of when you go to bed and when you get up in the morning can be a point of contention.

Iguazu Falls, Brazil

And then there’s that inevitable moment when things go wrong. And make no mistake about it, things almost always go wrong at least once during a trip. Often a lot more. These moments are among the most revealing of character and personality: how he deals with stress, what kind of fiber she’s made of, how resilient he may or may not be, how creative she is when thinking of solutions. And these are also the moments that can make or break a relationship, either throwing the two of you into conflict or bringing you closer together.

Of course, even if we can’t travel with a certain person, we can learn a bit just by spending some time asking them about their trip. What do they tend to talk about: the logistics? the food? the physical activities they did? the beautiful painting they saw? the people they met? Do they turn their trip into some kind of narrative through which they find insight or meaning? Do they dwell on what went wrong (the weather, bad food, lost luggage, etc.) or what went right (or maybe a bit of both)?

Traveling with someone is challenging, so don’t do it to keep the peace and maintain the status quo. I’ve heard stories of friendships ending during trips because they aren’t strong enough to bear up under the additional stress. But if the end goal is not to keep a friendship going at all costs but rather to know a person more deeply, then travel might give the insight we seek. We might not like everything we discover, but sometimes we’ll also find that we love that person anyway.

Your turn: Where would you like to visit? What aspects of a trip do you tend to talk about once it’s over?

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Last week we talked about thinking of writing as a business, which includes educating ourselves about the industry and making informed choices. Today I want to talk about something that keeps us from making clear-headed business decisions. 

Desperation.

Desperation rears its ugly head for most writers, often (although not exclusively) toward the beginning of a career. We want so badly to be published, to be chosen, to have public validation that we aren’t wasting our time. We want to get our words and stories to the public. We want to be able to tell our friends and acquaintances, “Why, yes, I have an agent now. And Big Publisher XYZ wants to buy my novel.” Or “Why, yes, my indie-published novel is on the Kindle Best-seller List now, thanks for asking.” We want to know that we’re moving forward with our craft and not staying stuck in a hellish holding pattern. We want we want we want.

Some amount of ambition and desire for success is healthy. It might keep us on a daily writing schedule or encourage us to continue sending out those queries. It might motivate us to improve our craft or take a workshop. But it’s so easy to cross from these helpful impulses into the dark side of desperation.

The danger of entering that desperate place is that our decision-making process becomes impaired. Instead of making practical, well-reasoned decisions, we’re suddenly willing to do almost anything to see our work in print. We’ll sign with an agent even though we either haven’t done thorough research on the agent’s history or have a bad feeling about the working relationship. We’ll sign a publishing contract even though it offers poor terms. We’ll rush into self-publishing our novel electronically without enlisting first readers and/or editors to help us make the book the best it can be. We’ll say something best left unsaid on the social media of our choice because we’re so stressed/insecure/jealous/upset that we just can’t help ourselves.

Acting from a place of desperation is the opposite of acting from empowerment. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with a traditional publishing structure or taking the indie path. In either case, desperation will lead to poor decisions (unless you’re very, very lucky). Desperation will tempt you to devalue yourself and your work and believe me, you don’t want to go down that path.

So what is a poor writer to do? Stop. Breathe. Try to convince yourself that you’re not in a race and you don’t have to hurry to the detriment of everything else. Avoid comparing yourself to other writers who are doing everything better, faster, with more shiny. Avoid it like the plague. Postpone any big decisions until you can talk yourself into a calmer state of mind.

And remember you’re not alone. I think writer desperation is very common, but we don’t always talk about it. I am writing this to tell you that I have felt it, I have been there, and I might very well be there again. All of the doubt and the waiting and the anxiety and the rejection and the lack of understanding–it SUCKS. Of course we sometimes feel desperate. But we don’t have to give the desperation the power to take over our lives. We can feel it and then keep going, keep trying, keep believing in ourselves. And we can do our best to make our business decisions based on the facts and our priorities instead of on a crazy-making emotional state.

Does anyone else ever experience writer desperation? Have any good tips on how to avoid it or deal with it once it’s happening? Please share!

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