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Posts Tagged ‘priorities’

The road ahead

When I started this blog, I made the explicit decision that I wouldn’t talk about politics.

Of course, one could argue that everything is political. I have written from time to time about feminist ideas, and I talked about my own efforts to read more diversely (something that is just as important as ever). I also talked about the importance of voting. But I have not written about candidates or elected officials, I have not talked about bills or policies, I have not talked about political headlines from the news.

Instead I have written about meaning and change and grief. I have written about friendship and relationships. I have written about getting to know who each of us are.

I have written about living an examined life. Most of the people who read my blog, you get that, and it is what you strive for as well. I know that because you have come up and introduced yourselves, you have talked to me at parties, you have written me emails and comments.

But we are not only individuals; we intersect with the larger world. We are part of groups and communities, cities and states and countries. We cannot live an examined life without considering those connections. We exist in an interdependent system. None of us live outside politics. Some of us have more of a choice than others, but in the end, while we can try to ignore politics, politics will not ignore us.

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I’d say hard times are coming, but hard times are already here. They’ve been here all along, and they are getting worse. Hundreds of hate crimes have been reported in the last week. HUNDREDS. Many of these are happening in schools. President-Elect Trump has appointed a known white supremacist as his chief strategist. People are worried about increased violence to and the loss of civil rights of Muslim people, Jewish people, people of color, LGBTQ people, women, immigrants, and the disabled. People are worried about losing access to health care, and some of these people will die without it. And there is more. Much more.

John Scalzi, our preeminent science fiction blogger, said, “I think it’s going to be bad. I hope that the bad falls within historical norms. I wouldn’t count on it.”

Which means we have to prepare. Now is the time to take care of medical procedures, to stockpile medicine, to take a self-defense class, to learn about computer security, to get an updated passport, to plan ahead. Now is the time to get to know the people in your local communities, to make phone calls and write letters, to donate and volunteer, to learn how to be an ally and intervene, to get your ducks in a row. If you’re going to protest, now is the time to get your gear, learn your rights, and set up your logistics. Now is the time to pay attention and stay informed, to support responsible and in-depth journalism, and to remind yourself of what you believe to be right.

What if this is all absurd overkill? Well, I certainly hope it is. But there are enough signs that say it isn’t that considering this kind of stuff is only practical. In addition, many of these actions are generally good things to do whatever the circumstances. They are also the kinds of actions that are easy to put off. So now is a good time to stop procrastinating and actually do them.

So this, then, is my call to action: Stop procrastinating. Plan ahead. Do some good stuff. Take care of yourselves, and take care of the people around you.

And above all, don’t stop caring. Living an examined life is not always easy, but it is always, always worth it.

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I feel like I don’t have enough time.

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Photo Credit: adrianvfloyd via Compfight cc

I don’t know that I have any fresh insights to offer on this subject, but at the very least I’m sure most of you have also felt this way at some point in your lives.

I didn’t have enough time this weekend, so by Sunday night I basically collapsed on the couch unable to do anything because I hadn’t given myself enough time to sleep. I couldn’t even respond to Facebook comments, that is how tired I was.

I think of what I’m supposed to accomplish in the next week, and I feel motivated and focused and anticipatory, and also how the hell am I going to do all that, and how can I squeeze in a bit more?

I think about what I can skip, and then I feel grumpy because I don’t want to skip that!

I’m supposed to take a vacation next month, and I haven’t even started planning it. I don’t know when I have time to plan it. And it will be a working vacation, of course, because my novel is running long and there’s no way it will be done by then, and also (hopefully) I might have another project I need to work on by then, and also there’s a bunch of people I want to see and a few touristy activities I want to do. But at least I won’t have to make huge piles of stuff to donate, so, you know, VACATION!

I’m also having to accept my current timeline may or may not be realistic. As in, it’s at least remotely possible that it isn’t.

So what I am noticing during this time of the busy?

The more I think about how busy I am (like while writing this post, for example), the more stressed I feel and the more time I waste. When I focus on the task at hand, I can actually blow through a lot fairly quickly.

I am even more grateful than usual for the generosity, patience, and flexibility of friends.

I feel more focused when I keep my top priorities clear.

I still have to find downtime, or forget about productivity and sociability.

It’s easier for me to move on from things that really shouldn’t be taking up my time. And that by itself is a huge lesson.

These efforts that are taking up my time are all very important to me, and that is an amazing thing to be able to say. Time is precious to me, and to be able to spend it in ways that are aligned with my goals and priorities is very meaningful. That’s why I’m not cutting out more until I absolutely have to.

I feel like I don’t have enough time. But what a privilege to spend my time as I am.

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Before this last weekend, I hadn’t attended a convention in a year. And the last convention I attended was somewhat memorable.

Before I left for ConFusion last week, I told myself I had to take it easy. I had been sick for much of the three or four weeks preceding the con, and in addition to that, I’ve been a bit burned out, which seems to mostly mean I’m more tired than usual and have less social energy. I’ve been forcing myself to go out some, but wow, am I much more of an introvert than I usually am.

The perfect time to go to a con!

(Cue maniacal laughter.)

I’ve found it difficult to explain the experience of attending a con as a early-career writer to people who have never been to a con and are not writers, but I will try now. It is incredibly intense. It is both one of the best times ever and an enormous amount of work. It sounds like a big party, and it kind of is, but you never forget you’re there because of writing, which is one of the most important things in your life, and therefore everything that happens at a con has the tendency to take on an overinflated importance. It is difficult to avoid some feelings of being judged, and this doesn’t seem to go away even for many seasoned pros.

The entire con experience is laced through with an undercurrent of PRESSURE. Pressure to make good use of the time because you spent a bunch of money to be there. Pressure to sound intelligent and not say anything incredibly stupid or offensive. Especially on a panel or when talking to a writer you particularly admire. Pressure to smooth over social awkwardness. Pressure to find someone to talk to at the bar. Pressure to prove yourself. Pressure to find an interesting topic to discuss or be on Twitter more or make sure your opinions have some actual thought behind them. Whatever your particular pressure poison is.

Lest you begin to get the wrong idea, the con experience is also jam-packed with amazing moments, fun excursions, and stimulating conversations you’re still thinking about long afterwards. It’s a pressure cooker of mostly awesome.

I had a wonderful and tiring time this weekend. Everyone was very kind to me. There was no running off to cry in public bathrooms (always a plus). Three of the four panels I was on went extremely well, and the fourth one wasn’t a train wreck or anything, I just thought it was kind of boring. I got to spend lots of time with Ferrett, along with many other friends and acquaintances, and I met several new people who I liked a lot. While I heard stories from other writers about stuff that went down at this con, I personally had a very positive experience.

Yay!

Yay!

But I did notice a difference.

I took a lot more time alone in my hotel room. I’d reach a lull in my schedule or have no companions at the bar, and instead of pushing myself to seek out THE BEST USE OF MY TIME, I’d go back up to my room and play Splendor on my iPad and relax. However, this self-permission turned out to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, having some quiet time was really nice. On the other hand, I definitely felt like I was using more willpower than I normally do because eventually I’d have to force myself back out into the thick of things, and the expenditure of that extra willpower took away some of the gains of taking the quiet time in the first place. So that was one unexpected thing that happened.

The other thing I noticed was that I cared less overall about what other people thought. The main result of this seemed to be that I circulated less. I pushed myself less to be a flitting social butterfly moving from group to group. I moved some, but not as much as usual, and I had pretty much zero concern about thinking about whether I should be mingling more or considering with whom I should be talking more. I’d see a group of people I kind of knew and think about joining them, and if that seemed like it might cost me a lot of work or energy or awkwardness, I didn’t care enough to do it. Because I realized it didn’t really matter; I already can’t remember the specific cases when this happened. Instead I spent my time more organically; I didn’t work to engage people but talked with people with whom the engagement came naturally.

Interestingly, I met plenty of new people this way (although it’s hard to say if this was less or more than previously), and the general quality of conversation seemed to go up. Usually at cons I spend a lot of time having almost the exact same conversation fifty times or more. This time there was a lot less of that, and the increased variety of topic was something I deeply enjoyed. At various times I had really quality conversations about music, dance, various books, social justice, female friendships, transmedia, psychology, relationships, cooking and food, story ideas, theater and musical theater, television, the film industry, economics, several panel topics, and more. Of course, good conversation is a hallmark of most cons, but this time there was simply MORE of it, which is an unalloyed positive as far as I’m concerned.

Even so, the pressure was still present. I simply wasn’t allowing it to shape as much of my time or determine as many of my actions. Even in the face of pressure, there is often a choice: what do I value the most here? And in my case, it was allowing room for moments of significance and connection, and also, perhaps the biggest change, allowing myself room to do what was good for me.

Photo by Al Bogdan

Photo by Al Bogdan, 2016

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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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We are on the eve of 2016.

I like that number.

As previously stated, I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, per say, but I do think the end of the year can be a good time to reflect on goals and priorities and potentially re-focus on the things that matter to you. So I’ve been thinking about what I’m looking forward to in 2016 and what I want to be keeping in mind.

This might sound kind of funny, but one of the things I’m most looking forward to is to have some time when not much is going on. The last few months have been a veritable whirlwind of excitement: all the holidays and their trappings, a trip to Disneyland, big concerts, the French Laundry, a few big movie events, etc. And it has been great! I’ve had such a good time!

And now I am very tired. And I am so looking forward to getting back to my normal schedule. I can’t wait to start working in earnest on a new writing project (right now I’m in the brainstorming stage, which is fun but also drives me a little nuts). I can’t wait to get back to dancing every Thursday night. I can’t wait to reconnect with friends when I’m not on constant excitement overdrive. I spent some time with one of my close friends a few nights ago, and we sat quietly with some hot cider and talked about our lives, and it was the best thing ever. I’m looking forward to more of that.

I’m looking forward to doing a bit more writing travel in 2016 because that means I’ll get to spend more time with many dear friends. And I miss my writer friends. Often I get to see them two or three times a year, but this past year I only got to see most of them once, if at all. And I just got my panel schedule for ConFusion, which is happening only a few weeks now, and I get to talk about such interesting things!

I’m looking forward to continuing to work on personal growth as well. The other week a friend of mine told me, “You’re really good at boundaries now!” and that felt really good to hear. And I am a lot better than I was. But the truth is, my starting point was very low. I’ve progressed a lot, but there is still more room to improve. One of the hard truths about change is that sometimes it takes a long time. But one of the great things about change is that you can see what a positive impact it is having, which is very inspiring.

On a more mundane note, I am looking forward to having (hopefully) improved health insurance, after doing the work to switch to a provider I hope will better meet my needs. And I’ve finally done the work to update my calendar/scheduling system, consolidating everything into one place instead of…um…four, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that works. It’s color-coded and everything!

Mostly, my hope for 2016 is that I get to spend time doing the things that are important to me: writing, singing, dancing, playing with Nala, spending time with the people I love, learning about myself and the world around me, and pursuing my hobbies. I hope I get to try something new. I hope I move through my difficulties with grace. I hope I remember to appreciate all the good things. I hope I am kind, both to myself and to others. I hope I am joyful. I hope I make the space around me a little bit brighter.

Here is my wish for us this New Year’s Eve: May we all have a positive and meaningful 2016. And thank you so much for sharing 2015 with me.

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It’s the time of year when I get particularly reflective and spend more time than usual considering what has happened in my recent past and looking at where I think I’m heading.

So then, 2015, what am I thinking?

Overall, 2015 was a wonderful year for me. After quite a few mixed to not-good years, this was an extremely welcome change.

Writing:

I completed four drafts of my YA London novel, thereby breaking my streak of writing a novel every other year, so that was very satisfying. But of course, the big news of the year was signing with my agent Kirsten Carleton, a goal I’d been working towards for several years. The blog had its highest traffic day of all time this year, and I sold my first piece of paid nonfiction. So yeah, on the career front, this was an amazing year.

Travel:

I did the least amount of writing-related travel I’ve done since I began attending retreats and workshops and cons. I think I needed a break! I went to ConFusion in Detroit last January and the Rainforest Writers’ Retreat in Washington in February, and then I stayed home for several months. Luckily several of my writer friends happened to be in town this year, and between their visits and my local writer friends, I was able to have enough writer talk to keep me happy.

For fun travel, I spent two weeks in Bali this fall, which was an extremely positive experience. And I popped over for a few days of Disneyland before the end of the year.

Entertainment:

I kept myself very busy this year! I read sixty books, which I talked about a few weeks ago. (Yes, I got to sixty! Whee!) I saw sixteen movies in theaters. My favorite, excluding Star Wars because that is kind of its own thing, was probably The End of the Tour. I also saw TWENTY-FIVE plays and musicals, which I’m pretty sure has never happened before. I think my favorite was Mr. Burns at ACT. Or maybe If/Then. And I saw fourteen concerts, and I don’t think I can choose a favorite, given they included The Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie, Hardwell, Marian Hill, the Crystal Method, and Muse.

I played perhaps fewer board games this year, but I still had several favorites. And last week I got to try two new games, both of which I enjoyed: Dead of Winter and Mysterium. In TV land, I continued my first watch of Star Trek: The Next Generation (I’m now halfway through season five, so two and half seasons to go!), re-watched some Gilmore Girls, saw half of the most recent season of Game of Thrones before konking out, really enjoyed Sense8 and part of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and have been catching up on The Office, which I never saw while it was airing.

Dancing:

I am giving this its own sub-heading because that is how excited I am about it! 2015 is the year I started dancing again, and my ankle cooperated, and my knees cooperated, and I am very very happy. Granted, I had to take several months off when I sprained my toe this summer, but the toe is finally feeling much better, and I am very much looking forward to a lot more dancing in my future.

Social Stuff:

A good barometer of how happy I am with my social life is how little traveling (relatively speaking) I did this year. I continued to meet many new people, but also spent a lot of time settling in and spending quality time with the friends I have. They are great. I really like them. I feel very lucky. Perhaps particularly heartening was that my social life didn’t dry up and disappear after I sprained my toe and was laid up for several weeks. I also threw a big birthday party for myself this summer, and then finally got over my planning burn-out and arranged several group game days and movie outings.

And of course, I began dating the Boyfriend in the summer, and we’ve been doing many exciting and fun things and learning a lot from each other. And Nala has been doing well too.

Other Firsts:

I went to the Walt Disney Family Museum for the first time. And also the Sutro Baths. I ate at the French Laundry! I did my first escape room. I drove a Tesla. I went to my first dancing convention. I went to Cars Land at California Adventure for the first time, and got to ride on a Star Wars-themed Hyperspace Mountain. I got my arm signed by the famous Ferrett Steinmetz. I watched a Terminator movie for the first time. I tried star fruit for the first time. I found out the Japanese market down the street from me sells divine cream puffs. I did blues dancing on the beach at night. A monkey crawled up my leg, and a baby sea turtle touched my finger. I went to my first comedy festival. I brought a vanilla chai into a shop at the mall and they didn’t yell at me. I got to hear Margaret Atwood speak, which was a real privilege.

Yes, I really liked this year. Which is why I decided to give my 2015 photo book this title:

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I usually write a blog post around this time that is about my theme for the year.

I spent some time this morning going through old blog posts and thinking about theme ideas. And, all in all, this has been a really good year for me. REALLY good.

List of possible 2015 themes:

Peaches.

Look, I’m happy!

Cool, I think I’m going to go take care of myself now.

Yeah, I got this.

Thanks for being my friend, you rock!

No thanks.

The important thing is the work.

Milkshakes! Pancakes! Peanut butter pie!

Shake it off.

This is one picture of happiness.

This is one picture of happiness.

Hmm, which one of these should I use as the headline of this post? Decisions, decisions.

But in all seriousness, just because I had a positive year doesn’t mean I didn’t still learn a lot. Here are some of the things I learned:

  1. Dancing helps with my physical health in the medium term.
  2. Also it’s freaking awesome.
  3. Also it automatically improves my mood.
  4. My apartment is my sanctuary, and as such, it’s worth every cent I pay in rent.
  5. Sprained toes take a really long time to heal.
  6. Sometimes taking a break from networking can be beneficial to my mental health.
  7. Because it’s the actual writing that matters the most.
  8. Just because I’m afraid is not a reason not to do a thing. It’s also not a reason to automatically do a thing.
  9. I really like my friends. Well, okay, I guess I already knew this, but I get constant reminders.
  10. I like to see as many friends as possible at least once a month. By the time I’m going three months without seeing them, I am less happy.
  11. Finding meaning in your life is super important.
  12. Life after getting an agent is pretty much the same as life before. Except without the endless querying.
  13. Sometimes it is really hard to let go.
  14. Being gentle with yourself doesn’t mean you automatically stop learning from your mistakes. It more often means you’re not damaging your self-esteem so much in the process.
  15. People are different, and they pay different energy costs for different things. And that’s okay.
  16. Being indirect often does not pay off. And at least with directness you know you said what you wanted to say.
  17. But that doesn’t mean it’s not also important to strive for kindness. You can be direct and kind at the same time.
  18. Sometimes you’re not going to say what the other person wants to hear. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say it.
  19. We all have quirks and eccentricities. Learning to accept this is important. About yourself too, not just about other people.
  20. Some comedy is actually funny. Yes, I know you already knew this. Now I do too!
  21. But some comedy is still not that funny at all.
  22. The necessity of sometimes having to wait isn’t going to go anywhere.
  23. Having a lot of lemonade in my fridge is wonderful.
  24. So much that’s going on has very little to do with me. I learn this every year. The trick, then, is to figure out what does have to do with me and focus on that.
  25. When you can make the choice to think positively, that’s the right choice to make. When you can’t, allowing that to be okay too can sometimes help you get back to a happier frame of mind more quickly.
  26. It’s important to allow other people to make their own mistakes. Even when it’s painful to watch. But if it’s too tiring to watch, it’s okay to take a little break.
  27. Differentiating between short-term and long-term problems can save a lot of energy.
  28. Mashed potatoes taste better when you add a lot of butter.
  29. Everyone has problems. People who understand this tend to be good people to have around.
  30. Loving yourself is still one of the most important things you can learn how to do.


What did you learn this year?

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