My 2014 Attack Plan

This is the fifth New Year’s post I’ve had the opportunity to write on this blog– hard to believe my little writing experiment has been going this long. From a writing perspective, 2013 has been a fairly good year: I had three stories published, and wrote half a novel during the Clarion West Write-a-thon. On the flip side, I didn’t actually finish the novel… but more on that later.

Of course, looking back on 2013 in the future, I won’t be counting stories published or places seen or anything else. 2013 will be indelibly etched in my mind as the year Mom passed away. And even though it’s been ten months since then, and a lot of good things have happened this year, it’s impossible for me to really say 2013 was a good year, in a larger sense. Losing a family member isn’t like most pain, in that it doesn’t fade away with time. It’s just one of those things that you learn to live with, because you have to. So while other successes and triumphs and failures and losses will fade with time, that will not.

But that said, I did lay some groundwork in 2013 for things that I very much hope will result in many positive experiences and memories in 2014. In mid-November, I quit my well-paying I.T. job, with the intention of focusing on a few creative and business-related ideas that I’ve long pursued in some form or another. I’ll be writing, of course; I’m also planning start a hypnotherapy practice and I also want to work on monetizing my photography. My goal is that by the end of the year, I’ll make enough money from a variety of sources that I won’t need to return to the world of I.T.

If not, then I hope I’ll at least have a couple novels, some epic photographs, fond memories, and a fantastic year to show for it.

From mid-November until now, I’ve largely been on vacation, enjoying some time off and travelling to see friends and family on the East Coast. But it’s January 2014 now; this is where the rubber hits the road. I have a long to-do list, which I won’t post in its entirety here, but suffice it to say I have two new websites for my photography and hypnotherapy businesses that I’d like to get up and fully running by mid-January. I also want to get into the rhythm of writing– actually writing, not just social media content or blog posts– for at least two hours a day, and work to increase that as I settle into a routine.

It’s always been tempting for me to try to clear the rest of the to-do list first so that I can focus better when I sit down to write, but the problem with that approach is, there’s always something else on the to-do list. So writing is my top priority this year; even if I don’t make a cent, I’ll consider this year a success if I have a publishable story or two by the end of it.

I have other weekly and monthly goals as well. I plan to have at least least one interesting “photo expedition” every week– whether it be exploring Seattle or some part of its surrounding environs, going to a big event like a convention, or doing a pre-arranged photoshoot. And I want to keep going to the gym and doing full workouts at least twice a week (preferably three).

There’s a personal goal I want to strive for as well. In my New Year’s post for 2013, my second resolution was to find a talk therapist and work on my depression, which is something that I’ve been struggling with for a long time. I did find a talk therapist and worked with him for a few months, but we never really clicked. That’s okay, though. I feel like I did pretty well in my struggle against depression this year; I switched from taking Sertraline to taking a combination of Escitalopram and Bupropion (aka Lexapro and Wellbutrin), and overall feel pretty good about where I am. My confidence has generally improved, and I feel more in control of myself and my goals.

Yet I still feel quite a bit of anxiety when it comes to interacting with others. This manifests most strongly in how I interact with romantic interests, but to some level affects my interactions with family and friends as well. Looking back, I can even see how I’ve unconsciously sabotaged relationships in the past, because I was confronted with a new and different set of anxieties with which I was not familiar.

In essence, it comes down to this: I know how to be depressed and alone; it’s something I’ve spent years doing, and even though it’s not healthy, on some level of my subconscious it’s nevertheless home. It’s a natural state of being; a comfortable blanket I can wrap around myself, because even though I’m depressed, at least I’m used to it. I think on some level all our minds seek out homeostasis, that comfortable mental and emotional status quo with which we’re most familiar. When something threatens that (even if it’s a positive change), it can take a strong conscious effort to embrace the change and not recoil in fear.

I feel like I’ve learned to embrace a more positive state of being on a personal level. I have the confidence to confront and dealt with the things that come my way, and to set difficult challenges for myself (as evidenced by my career plan this year). in 2014, I want to work on extending that to how I interact with others– to have confidence in my ability not just to confront unknown challenges for myself, but to confront unknown challenges with others as well.

When confronting personal challenges, it’s easy to shove anxieties to the back of my mind and successfully deal with whatever comes my way, but when confronting interpersonal challenges my subconscious mind seems to actively work on creating new anxieties, and it’s much harder to just push things to the back of my mind so I can deal with what’s in front of me.

So in 2014, I want to work on not being so anxious when new people get close, to work on improving my ability to trust, and not to defensively wall myself off. Because that defensive recoiling doesn’t just protect me against negative things, it sabotages positive things. (And it’s not a particularly great way to deal with the negatives either.) It even hurt my relationship with my Mom in the year before she passed. I need to trust myself enough in how I deal with others that I no longer feel a need to withdraw into that safe, comfortable shell of loneliness. Or, at least, to gain better control of that need.

So I’ve got plenty to keep me busy in 2014. Working for myself is going to be a huge exercise in self-discipline: to actually buckle down and motivate myself on all these goals, and to accomplish everything I want to get done. In a year, I don’t want to look back with regret and feel like 2014 was wasted; I want to look back and be proud of what I was able to accomplish.

Wish me luck. And here’s wishing for a wonderful 2014 for you and yours.

And Now, Time For Something Different

So, a few days ago I gave notice at my job. My last day of work is November 15th.

I’ve been working in I.T. for almost nine years now, and I’ve enjoyed most of my time at the places I’ve worked, but I feel like it’s time to take a break for a while. Maybe even for good. Between my own savings and a portion of my Mom’s estate, I find myself in a position where I have enough resources to spend most of 2014 working full-time on projects of my own. And I hope, by the end of that period, I’ll be making a sustainable income.

That’s the plan, anyway. It’s still open to adjustment. And I’ve got some traveling to do first; I plan to spend December back on the East Coast. I’ll see my Mom’s completed columbarium for the first time (the engraved stone wasn’t finished at the time of the memorial service) and spend some time with old friends, then travel down to Florida and spend the holiday season with family. I kind of feel like I’ve been working with my head down ever since I got back from Mom’s funeral in March, so in December I plan to take my first real vacation in a while.

In 2014 I may do some more traveling, too. I haven’t taken an international trip since my 2010 trip to Europe. But we’ll see.

As for what projects I’ll be working in 2014, well, of course I’ll be writing. I have two novels I want to write, so if nothing else, by the end of this “freelance” period I hope to have a couple stories to shop around. I have a separate non-fiction endeavour I’d like to finish and publish on my own, so this will also give me an opportunity to work on that, and test the waters of of self-publishing.

In the meantime, I’ll also be working to expand my photography, doing photoshoots and events, selling prints, and getting a business running.

I’m also planning to start a hypnotherapy practice. Those of you who follow my blog will know that hypnosis has long been an interest of mine, and I’ve even blogged about the relationship between hypnosis and writing. I’ve been a certified hypnotherapist in Washington state for over a year, and I’ve already started planning what it will take to finally put that into practice.

This is a big list which has the potential to keep me very busy, even if I’m working on it full-time. And the opportunity to spend some serious, long-term time working on dreams of your own isn’t one that comes around very often, so I very much feel like this is an opportunity knocking on my door, and a day/month/year demanding to be seized.

This site will still primarily be about my writing, but as other big news happens (like as I get my other businesses and their websites running), I’ll likely post about it here. After all, this blog is ultimately about my own personal journey, and this is certainly part of that.

I feel like I’m embarking on the biggest change of my life since 2010, when I stuffed everything I could fit into my Hyundai Elantra and drove to Seattle. This next change I’m hoping will be a little more focused and goal-oriented than that one, but it’s one I’m very much looking forward to.

GeekGirlCon: Fandom, The Next Generation

I spent Saturday hanging out at the Washington State Convention Center, enjoying GeekGirlCon. This was my first time attending GGC since its debut year in 2011, and I was blown away by how much it’s grown. In 2011, it was in a tiny suite of rooms in the northwest corner of the Seattle Center; this year, it took up most of the Conference Center at the WSCC.

I loved the atmosphere at GeekGirlCon. The place was busy without being jam-packed, and there were wide-open lobby spaces for easy photography, meeting friends, and even concerts, courtesy of Molly Lewis and The Doubleclicks.

But of course, “atmosphere” means more than the physical surroundings. I got the distinct but hard-to-define sense that GeekGirlCon was a much safer space than usual cons. Maybe it was the prevalence of gender-bending cosplay, and people taking risks with their cosplay that they might not at a usual con. I don’t mean risque cosplay– although there was some of that, too– I mean cosplay that involves stepping out of your comfort zone, to play someone who’s not like you, either in gender, or body shape, or personality. People seemed more willing to open up, try something different, even potentially embarrassing, because of the friendly atmosphere that permeated the con. I suspect that just the name and theme of the con attracted a more open, welcoming, and socially aware crowd, and that was reflected in people’s comfort, and also in the overall atmosphere.

The crowd at GeekGirlCon was an all-ages crowd, but trended toward the young side. It felt like most of the adults I saw were in their 20s and 30s, and there were also a lot of families with young kids. That second part in particular was nice to see– I truly did feel like I was seeing a lot of next-generation fans. And kids at GGC got a chance not just to indulge in the typical range of media properties that are classified as “geek,” but also to kindle the love of creativity and science that to me, more than anything, defines what is at the heart of geekdom.

One of the coolest features at the con was the DIY Science Zone, where panelists and volunteers helped kids do various science experiments. Apparently one of the panelists even brought a small piece of the Chelyabinsk meteor for show-and-tell. I think one of the bigger challenges facing not just geekdom but society in general is how to bring more inclusiveness and diversity to the Science and Technology fields, not just for this generation’s sake but for the next, and so I’m always glad to see GGC maintain such a strong focus on real-life science and tech.

The exhibition hall, meanwhile, was full of local artists and small craft folk; most dealer’s rooms generally are, but I got the sense at GeekGirlCon that there was a much larger portion of artists just starting out, maybe even folks operating a booth for the first time. And I don’t mean that in a bad way; there was a charming, almost homespun feel about the exhibition/dealer area that I liked a lot.

But ultimately, the number one reason I say that GGC felt like the next generation of fandom is because of how open, diverse, and inclusive it felt. To me, it felt like how fandom and geekdom could be, once we get past the misogyny and homophobia and various market-driven forces that seem determined to tell us how to be a geek in present times, how certain pursuits and books and games are “boy” or “girl”. I was only at GGC for one day, but I still felt that in some sense GeekGirlCon represents the potential for what geek culture could become; hopefully it really is a window into the next generation.

Occasionally during and after cons, I hear people fretting about how fandom is aging, or dying out, or withering away, but having been to GGC I’m quite confident in saying it’s doing just fine. Sure, it’s changing, but all in all, I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

An Electrifying Saturday

We get plenty of rain in Seattle, but it’s usually in the form of a misty drizzle– the sort of rain where you’re not sure if it’s even worth the trouble of opening an umbrella. But a few times a year, lightning does light up the sky. It’s not very often, and the storms never last long, but whenever I hear that rumble of thunder, I immediately get excited and even somewhat nostalgic for the Southeast U.S. For me, there’s something therapeutic about ferociously bad weather, as long as I’m enjoying it from home and not, say, trying to drive through it.

Last night we got one of the best storms since we’ve moved to Seattle, and even though it was still relatively short (there were two or three brief bands of rain and lightning over the course of maybe two hours), it was nevertheless fun. I’ve been playing with a new camera (a Canon EOS 7D), so I took the camera to the overhang at the front of the building, set up a tripod, and decided to see what I could capture. Naturally, as soon as I did the rain and thunder faded away, but my patience was rewarded when another band of storms came through and I caught this picture, at about 1:30 am this morning:

That may be one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken. The overhang of my apartment is not exactly the greatest view– with a better vantage point I’d love to get a picture of lightning framing the Space Needle, or the downtown skyline– but given that it was my first attempt at lightning photography ever, I’m pretty happy.

Also, apparently taking that picture used up all my electricity-related karma for a while. When I left this morning to drive to Writer’s Group, I found my car battery dead. I took a taxi, and when I finally joined up with my fellow Wordslingers and turned on my laptop, I found it was only at half-power, despite having charged all night.

I got a measure of revenge on the universe by having this conversation on Twitter. (Warning: terrible puns ensue. Click on link at your own risk.)

And Life Goes On

I’ve been back in Seattle for almost three weeks now, and in a sense I feel like I’ve been re-entering life. Slowly the mundanities of every day existence– like going to work, or remembering what I need to buy from the grocery store on the way home– have regained their previous importance.

Well, perhaps “importance” is the wrong word. Better to say that it’s easier to care about them.

I have to admit, it was tough returning from North Carolina (where Mom’s passing was very much present, in almost every thought and personal interaction) back to Seattle (where I was more or less expected to continue with the routines of day-to-day life). For a while I wasn’t sure if I had the strength.

But life does, indeed, goes on. Two weeks ago I went back to work, and started going to the gym again, and slowly but surely things fell into place. An immensely daunting pile of paperwork even got finished, one signature and one receipt at a time.

The hardest thing, I find, is the number of times something will happen or I’ll hear a funny story, and think, “oh, I should e-mail that to Mom.” Or “hey, I’d better ask Mom.” And then I’ll remember.. no, no I won’t. I can’t just call her up any afternoon or evening on a whim just to ask, for example, “Do you soak the bread crumbs in milk before you put them in the meatloaf?” And I always knew, no matter what, that Mom would be glad I called.

I think we all have an unfortunate tendency to take for granted the people who love us unconditionally, especially if they are people we have known for a very long time– and certainly parents qualify. It’s when they’re not there any more that you realize– even if you didn’t talk to them every day– that their mere presence in the world cheered you. You walked a little easier just knowing in the back of your mind that someone who cared that much about you existed– and when you lose someone like that, I’m not sure you ever get over it. You just get a bit stronger, because you have to.

So that’s where I stand. One thing that helped me immensely last weekend was Norwescon, and later this week I hope to do a more detailed (and cheerful!) write-up. Because it’s time to cut down on the depressing blog posts, and make this thing about writing and travelling again.

Life, and Blog, goes on.

Dream Big

For me, today would be incomplete without a brief nod to the fact that exactly nine years ago, on March 8, 2004, I started my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. It’s an anniversary I’ve noted before, and it continues to serve as a reminder to always set big goals.

Going through Mom’s stuff, I found a copy of the following poem, which once adorned the sidebar of my original Appalachian Trail webpage. That site has long since been re-absorbed into the aether of the Interwebs, but the poem is still poignant, especially given the recent passing of Mom. My mind’s been circling around these sort of thoughts a lot lately, and today it seems particularly appropriate to post this.

In more mundane news, I’ll be heading back to Seattle next week, ready for life to move on, even though things will never quite be the same. And the memory of the last few weeks, like the memory of the Appalachian Trail, will serve as an ever-present reminder to keep dreaming, and to keep setting those big goals.

 

Dream Big
Author Unknown

If ever there were a time to dare,
To make a difference,
To embark on something worth doing,
It is now.
Not for some grand cause, necessarily,
But for something that tugs at your heart
Something that’s your aspiration
Something that’s your dream

You owe it to yourself
To make each day here count.
Have fun.
Dig deep.
Stretch.

Dream big.

Know, though,
That things worth doing
Seldom come easy.
There will be good days
and there will be bad days
There will be times when
you want to turn around,
pack it up,
call it quits.
Those times tell you
That you are pushing yourself,
That you are not afraid to learn
by trying.

Persist.

Because with an idea,
determination,
and the right tools,
you can do great things.
Let your instincts,
your intellect,
and your heart
guide you.

Trust.

Believe in the incredible power
Of all the things that will cross your path.

The start of something new
Brings the hope of something great.
Anything is possible.
There is only one you,
And you will only pass this way once.

Do it right.

Nothing is Certain but Death and Paperwork

Thanks to everyone who posted good thoughts on my last blog entry. It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks, as we ricochet between the emotional side of death (memories; memorial services; reminiscing with family and friends) and the mundane side of death (getting papers in order, clearing out and selling the townhouse, wrapping up the estate). When you’re dealing with the mundane side, with the possessions and material goods accumulated in day-to-day life, and the bureaucracy of both government and large financial institutions, you simply can’t afford to be paralyzed by emotion. Even amidst so much turmoil, there’s still plenty of shit to do, and quite a lot of it.

But in turn, this means you need time to vent, to put aside the paperwork and focus on the important things– like the memories. (At least, that’s how it works for me.)

I’ve been coping the past couple of weeks by going through and scanning pictures from Mom’s scrapbooks. She kept detailed scrapbooks all throughout her life, and on top of that I’m pretty sure she never actually threw a picture away. We found a whole box with nothing but old negatives that I’m pretty sure had been sealed shut for twenty years.

In the process of going through photos, I put together a small retrospective, which in addition to being deeply emotional for me, I’m fairly pleased with from a creative perspective. It’s certainly not a comprehensive view of Mom’s life, but I think it does tell the core narrative, and the parts which were most important to her, especially the love she gave to family and friends.

This and the next couple blog entries will probably be overly emotional things, a way for me to vent so I can spend the bulk of my daylight hours dealing with banks, the IRS, the SSA, and any other 3-letter bureaucratic acronyms. The good news is, the end of the short-term work is in sight, and I hope in a week or so that I’ll be back in Seattle. Life will never quite be the same, but I’m looking forward to life going on, and seeing what new adventures will come.

In the meantime, a short little memorial video: