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Shirley Jackson – Memory and Delusion

I cannot recall having read any Shirley Jackson stories (something I am resolving to rectify now) but this essay found on the New Yorker gives a glimpse into her mind in a way that makes her entirely sympathetic and relatable.

It explores how our experiences provide fuel for writing, and how memory works for writers–how it is a kind of multi-faceted resource we draw upon.

The whole thing is easily readable, and I’m struggling now to not quote it in its entirety, but here’s one part that resonates for me:

That is one half of writing, of course. The lower depths, as it were. The other half is what I might delicately call information. Henry James got the idea for The Spoils of Poynton from a single remark heard at dinner, but he also had to find out somehow what lovely possessions looked and felt and smelled like, the tapestries splendidly toned by time, the thrilling touch of the old velvet brocade.

–Shirley Jackson, “Memory and Delusion”

You can read the essay on the New Yorker website. It’s the first in a three-part series. Found via a retweet of Glen Mazarra by Livia Llewellyn

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Work From Home Tips From a Battle-scarred Veteran

I’ve been working from home full time for eleven years now. I’ve worked from “home” in Colorado, Kansas, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and France. I don’t expect I’ll be traveling any time soon, but I’ve got the scars and hard lessons learned about how to work from home effectively.

Set Boundaries

If you can, establish a specific space for your work-from-home activities. If you’re a work-a-holic, a big problem can be that the boundaries between your life and your time working for The Man start to blur. What’s it hurt to check your email at 9:30 PM at night? Ask me when you start waking up at 2 AM and checking them like clockwork. It’s a slippery slope, and you need boundaries. We need rest and recovery time from being in a work mindset. Human beings need leisure as much as we need income to survive, so try not to sacrifice one for the other.

One of the most important skills you’re going to learn when you work from home is how to maintain a sense of work-life balance. Start right away. Set a space and set regular hours. Give yourself a schedule and stick to it outside of emergencies. Your sense of well-being will thank me.

Take Regular Breaks

The Pomodoro technique is the death of flow for me, but I try to remember that I regularly need to get off my butt and move around. Stretch, pace, and at least twice a day, I take a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood. It’s very easy, when working at a computer, to let your entire body atrophy. Remind yourself with regular timers to move. You don’t want to have joint problems or RSI or any of that. You’ll have more energy.

Don’t Take Accidental Naps

It’s okay and even encouraged to nap, but you can lose a huge chunk of your day to an accidental nap. If you sit down on your couch for just a moment, that can easily turn into two hours. Don’t kid yourself; plan your naps if you want them. Try not to let them go on too long, or the guilty feeling will override any positive benefits you get from them.

Desk Snacking

With the pantry only maybe a dozen feet away from your workstation, the temptation to snack will be there. If you can’t avoid snacking while your work, don’t be like me; don’t take the entire bag to your desk; fill a bowl. Chances are, you won’t taste anything you eat, and you’ll definitely not be feeling good if you finish off an entire box of Girl Scout cookies at your desk. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Get Dressed, Maybe

This one will be controversial. One of the great things about working from home, assuming you don’t have a video conference meeting, is that you can dress as comfortably as you want. You can work in your pajamas, or in the nude (I recommend against snacking in the nude, though. Crotch-crumbs are no fun). However, I find it’s helpful to building a work mindset to put on something resembling a work outfit. I do not work in my pajamas because I just don’t find myself concentrating very well, because I’ve missed a habit. Habits have a way of nagging us if we don’t carry them on.

A lot of what you’re going to be doing in the early days is building good habits to keep yourself productive.

Don’t be a Slave to Productivity

One thing that was hard for me to realize was, I couldn’t actually work and bill for an eight hour day. The truth is, nobody in an office does eight hours of work a day under perfect circumstances, and you’re sure as hell not going to at home either. Realize that there are human constraints on your productivity. You can trade health for productivity (both mental and physical), but that’s a bad bargain, my friends. You will always end up regretting it.

Don’t be afraid to take breaks to chat with people. Make a social media post. Read a news article. Don’t let your entire day become that, again, we’re talking about building balance here.

Be Patient

You will find a natural rhythm over time, but you’re going to have to be patient, and you’re going to make mistakes, no matter how many articles like this one you read. That’s okay. You’re only human, and each day is a new chance to get better at it. Have some fun with it.

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Conversations with the Dead

Sometimes I see people who look like my father did, before he got sick. In the early days, it would make me cry and overwhelm me, to the point where I usually had to get away from the person. Certain relatives who bore a passing resemblance to him were impossible for me to carry on a conversation with because the pain of his passing was still too fresh.

My father has been dead now about fifteen years. Hard to believe that I’m nearly the age he was when he died. I don’t think of my dad every single day anymore, but I think about my Dad a lot more than I did six years ago. As a father, I find myself constantly comparing myself to the father figures I’ve had in my life. I’m lucky enough to have more than one dad in my life, but the others, I can still talk to and ask for advice (something for which I am very grateful). My biological dad is gone. There are a lot of questions I wish I could have asked him. A twenty seven year old has no idea what’s in front of him and what kind of advice he’s going to need, so I don’t really hold it against my dad or myself for not asking them when I had the chance.

Now days, when I see someone who looks like my father, I don’t get sad, but I do find myself daydreaming a bit. I find myself imagining: what if it was all just a big mistake, the cancer, all that? What if he recovered, but I didn’t know? I imagine us bumping into each other at the coffee shop, laughing and talking. In the few years before he died, we fought a lot about stupid stuff, and I think now I understand why. I like to think if we were to meet again, we could get along better.

But most of all, I want to tell him about the joy I get from being a Dad myself, about how many things he gave me that I in turn get to pass on to my kid. I want to tell him that I get him now in a way I never did before. I think he would have appreciated being understood better.

The funny thing is, while we don’t get to actually speak with the dead, if we knew them really well, we do get to speak with the version of them we carry around in our head. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to realize that not everything that happens to us has to be literal and real. Sometimes the imagined things are just as important, and just as meaningful. You’d think a guy who spends so much time playing imagination with his friends would intuitively grasp that, but I’ll take the reminders when I can get it.

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Cruel, Misbegotten February

I don’t naturally spend any time thinking about favorites and least favorite things. Sometimes an idle thought will stick, however, and recently I realized that February is my absolute least favorite month of the year. Now that I know this, I can probably takes steps to mitigate the problems I have with February, but first I need to understand better why I don’t enjoy it.

February is the point at which winter begins to outstay its welcome. Where I live, it truly begins to get cold at the end of January and tends to stay deeply, bitterly cold through all of February. It tends to be overcast for days on end start in the same time. I should dislike January as well, I suppose, but February bears the brunt of my displeasure because it is in February that I begin to be dragged down by the low-hanging clouds and lack of sun.

In previous years, I’ve found myself depressed in February. I’ve done stupid things in February, like break off friendships and isolate myself more deeply. February is the month where I often find myself not thinking as clearly as I would like. Luckily, my new pal Prozac has been doing a good job keeping me functional.

As a freelancer, February is a nebulous time. It’s a time when you have money in your accounts, but you’re uncertain how much of it belongs to your government. I may be well off, or I may be broke, and the only way I will know is to pay a highly qualified tax professional to sort through my income and expenses and make a pronouncement. Most years, we end up owing some, even with Trump’s wrong-headed tax law changes that we benefit from due to a passing similarity as a tax entity to a mega-corporation.

There are good things about February too, of course. Black History month continues to bring me things I never knew about my fellow citizens of color, because I am a dreadfully lazy ally and was poorly informed about black history month by my Kansas-based education. And many of my client service plans renew in February, meaning from a business standpoint, it feels like renewal and spring.

But I think what bothers me most is that most everything is dormant in February. Sports dominate the world, the grass is brown, the wind bitterly cold, and in general, it feels like mostly the world is on hold. February feels like a holding zone in which we must reside before things begin to happen again, and I’ve never been big on patience. Its biggest saving grace is that it is usually short. Don’t get me started about the unbearableness of leap years.

Anyway — here’s to February passing quickly and without notice. May we move on to the showers and new blossoms of March.

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Recent Interesting Reads

Happy Monday, dear readers. I’ve got a lot of topics I’m contemplating for upcoming posts, but I’m thinking that Mondays might start easy with an accumulation of links that I have from the previous week – things that caught my attention or interest, and might be of interest to you too. So here we go:

How To Make Mtn Dew Cheesecake (YouTube)

The reactions from most people I know this was universal dismay. I may have referred to it as tasting like “giving up on life.” In reality, this, like most garbage food, intrigues me and I would try it at least once.

Bells ring out Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’ at 17th-century Amsterdam church

My favorite Bowie song sounds strangely sad and beautiful when played on church bells.

Billie Jean But Every Instrument Is A Spring Door Stopper (YouTube)

People are so inventive and creative!

“Shit-Life Syndrome,” Trump Voters, and Clueless Dems

“So in 2020, this leaves realistic Dems with one strategy. While the Dems cannot provide a candidate who can viscerally connect with shit-life syndrome sufferers, the Dems can show these victims that they have been used and betrayed by Trump.”

Not sure if I agree with the conclusion above, but I agree with the cluelessness of my own political side in recognizing the problems facing these people. It’s an interesting read, worth thinking about.

That Uplifting Tweet You Just Shared? A Russian Troll Sent It

The IRA generated more social media content in the year following the 2016 election than the year before it. They also moved their office into a bigger building with room to expand. Their work was never just about elections. Rather, the IRA encourages us to vilify our neighbor and amplify our differences because, if we grow incapable of compromising, there can be no meaningful democracy. Russia has dug in for a long campaign. So far, we’re helping them win.

Frightening stuff to consider.

My Semester With the Snowflakes

After that class a couple of the students approached me and explained that their dads were cabbies when they first came to the United States, and that their fathers had told them that the things they sometimes heard from people in their cabs were amazing.

Think about that for a second. These students are first generation Americans. Their fathers immigrated to this country and started out by being taxi drivers. Now, their children are attending Yale University. I’m a patriotic man and those are the stories that help me understand how, in spite of the seemingly endless stream of negativity surrounding it, the American Dream is still alive and kicking. It makes my heart sing every time I see those kids.

I can always get behind this kind of ideological bridge-building.

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An Update Regarding my War With the Squirrels

The squirrels of my little neighborhood are no joke. I hate them and I consider them my mortal enemies. In my defense, they initiated hostilities.

Shortly after moving in, a squirrel threw a walnut at me not once, but three times. Once or twice, I could forgive as an acidence. But three times? Malice. Each time they missed, because I am better than them at literally everything except climbing trees, and I always remain vigilant in my own yard.

The next summer, one climbed up directly outside my office window and sat on the porch railing. No big deal, right? Wrong. It ate a live cicada from the tail up to the head, insect screeching until the final bite, and all the while, the squirrel never broke eye contact with me. I am not exaggerating. Once it finished the cicada, it hopped down and ran away. Message received, you furry little bastards!

We try to grow fruits and veggies, but they strip our garden of anything that appears edible, especially the tomatoes and strawberries. Sometimes, they even try chewing on my 3D printed stuff that I have curing out there. In the fall, the sound of their teeth scraping against walnuts and pecans from neighboring trees is a symphony I can only escape by playing loud music at all hours. Their gnawing is a taunting that agonizes my very soul.

Recently, we put up a bird feeder to draw more songbirds to the yard. It’s one of the fancy kinds that slide shut if a squirrel climbs on it. I’m not about to feed these freeloading pests for free, or so I thought. First, they chewed a HOLE in the bottom corner and dumped it out that way. Sarah patched that, so the next thing they did was chew through the rope hanging it from a tree. They dropped it to the ground and cleaned up, literally and figuratively. They did this twice to two different ropes before we finally used a chain and thus far, they haven’t found a way to defeat that, but I won’t be surprised when I hear a squirrel sparking up a blowtorch outside my window.

They are voracious tree rats, good for nothing, barely hunted at all by local predators. It was one of the happiest days of my life when I witnessed a local hawk eating a nice fat squirrel in a neighbor’s yard. You see, squirrels are good at avoiding avian predators –it’s tough to fly and hunt between the tree branches they infest. We have a pair of owls that regularly roost in our yard, but they never seem to eat the squirrels. No matter how many times I beseech them for an alliance.

I spend a not insignificant part of my day in the summer banging on windows to scare them away from plants and vegetables. I’ve thrown my fair share of walnuts back at them, too, I must admit, never hitting once. The squirrels know to keep their distance from me. None of them had murdered anything or thrown anything at me for a year or two.

I thought we’d come to an understanding. I was wrong.

Imagine my surprise when twice in the past few days, I have stepped out in my yard to be straight up charged by squirrels. Twice, I’ve now had a squirrel dash up to me, skid to a stop about a foot away and wait a moment, staring, before finally retreating. I have been so stunned each time that I’ve been frozen, speechless.

At first I thought maybe they were expecting me to feed them, and I wondered if a neighbor has been doing that. But now, after recounting the above stories here on this blog, I’m not so sure. I am starting to wonder if they’re testing boundaries and defenses; if they’re trying to bluff me with charges, like some bull elephant did in Kenya 20 years ago. I’m going to have to start carrying a broom with me every time I go out into the yard now, just in case.

If I am found dead in my yard with no obvious wounds, do not suspect suicide. Do not accuse humans of murder. Know with certainty that the squirrels have finally become victorious. Until then, the war continues. And you can be sure, if they manage to take me out, I’m taking as many of them as I can with me.

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Is This the New Normal?

My friend Stacey asked on Facebook, with little context, “Is this the new normal?” By which I assume she means, gestures vaguely at everything.

Dear Stacey–the good news is, no. This is not the new normal.

The bad news is, there is no such thing as normal anymore, at least not for a while. Normalcy is predicated on some generally accepted norms and the truth is, our entire lives have been a series of norm-destroying moments (for good and bad). Accelerated social change has been the hallmark of our generation. This acceleration, or at least my perception of it, feels like it has been building since the 1960s, but we’re really reaping the effects now, thanks to accelerated information exchange brought about by the internet.

This is good and bad, I think. For a geeky kid like me, norms regarding what it’s okay to like were oppressive and resulted in a lot of bullying. But norms also contribute to a sense of societal cohesion.

Do you feel like things are holding together very well lately? I sure as hell do not. In fact, everything feels likes like it is constantly tumbling to pieces now. And this feeling didn’t really start with our current president, although his actions are another accelerant in the mix.

The new normal is– no wait, sorry, it changed again. The new normal is–oh shit, really? He said what? I guess that’s just what our country– oh, he walked it back already? Fuck it, I give up.

Science fiction writers talk about something called the singularity, where technological change happens faster and faster, and it’s impossible to predict what comes next. I feel like the internet has brought about a kind of societal singularity, where norms are breaking down faster than we can build new ones, contributing overall to a sense of unease and declining feelings of cohesion.

Again — this is not all bad. It’s not all good. Nuance is the key word on my blog. Blogs are better to discuss this sort of thing than social media. Norms are both a sense of security and also oppressive.

Right now I think we could all use a sense of things calming down, or slowing down, though.

There’s some thinking that this isn’t the new non-normal, which is to say, this period of accelerated change may not last forever. Our society is undergoing a change not unlike the one from agrarian to industrial, and these periods to tend to be accompanied by major upheaval. Not even to mention the upheaval that we’re starting to experience from global warming!

So maybe not having a new normal is a temporary thing. If we wait long enough, turbulence will settle down and we’ll have a new, new normal. Assuming we all live long enough to see that day come, anyway.

Another possibility for Stacey and I is that we could simply be getting older; change is happening faster; it’s that our abilities to keep up are declining. We know this will happen at some point, but I’d like to think the early 40s are a bit too soon for society to leave me in its dust.

I keep circling back to this global information network that allows the spread of ideas (good or bad) at unprecedented speeds. We blundered into this society without a plan. Maybe our kids, who have lived in it their entire lives, will find a better way forward. They do seem quite a bit more empathic. The survival traits that seem to dominate in a world with such interconnectedness and collapsing societal norms are either heightened empathy or zero empathy. Let’s hope the former trait wins out in the ever-shifting societal norms, or we’ll be ground up into dog food in our retirement, eh?

So the new normal is that there is a new normal every ninety seconds, and we better adjust to that and ride it out, or, alternatively, die. Much like Midwestern weather, if you don’t like the new normal, wait a little bit and it’ll change. And if you want an old normal back? Tough shit. Happy Monday!

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Role-playing Games and Me in 2019

One major aspect of my life that I neglected to mention in my round-up for the last year/decade was how much time I now spend playing role-playing games with my friends.

Since my neighbor taught me to play basic Dungeons & Dragons in first grade, I’ve been hooked on RPGs. Here and there in my life, I’ve gone long stretches without playing, and truthfully, I never felt completely myself in those periods. I got a lot of writing done, but writing fiction never quite satisfied me like Dungeon Mastering a great game with great people. It’s like writing, but with immediate feedback! It’s impossible to beat telling thrilling stories with great friends, and recently, I found my way back into the hobby in a big way.

(Quick aside – I’m not mentioning the names of my fifteen players to protect their privacy, but they should all know that I love them very much and enjoy torturing them monthly).

Two years ago, I launched my first online D&D game via the Roll20 service and video conferencing software (we currently use Whereby.com for that and it works mostly well). I recruited fellow fathers who I thought would understand the trials and tribulations of having kids muck up your schedule. I figured scheduling would be difficult, as it’s always been the biggest challenge with in-person tabletop games. As it turns out, if you start your games in the evenings and nobody has to leave their home, scheduling is much easier! Our “Tomb of Dads” group (so called because we started with the Tomb of Annihilation adventure) is well into our second campaign now. This new campaign is based on ideas I developed from our trip to France in 2018, and involves a fallen, forgotten empire in ruins and a new, strong Catholic-like church/empire.

With that group going so well, I thought hey, I want to get another group going, and it’d be a good idea if it wasn’t a total sausage fest. For that one, I pulled together a group of friends from college, including my wife and another female classmate. We recently wrapped up that first campaign about stopping a planes-eating giant machine and have been playing some one-shots in Tales From the Loop while we think about what campaign we want to play next. We’re absolutely adoring Tales as a great 80s-themed “kids on bikes” style game with weird high tech mysteries, all based on and inspired by the fantastic artwork of Simon Stålenhag. Simon is one of my favorite artists working today.

In 2019, I started a third group, with this one made up mostly of friends from the writing community. We decided to play the Dragon Heist module, and it has provided the ongoing framework for an campaign now that we’ve completed it. That crew takes owning the Trollskull Tavern very seriously and so far, all of their adventures seem to revolve around the tavern and tavern-related activities.

Each group is very different from the others in terms of personalities and play styles, so I really get to stretch my planning and plotting skills for them. Some take the “game” part more seriously, and some take the “role-play” part more seriously. I’m always looking forward to each session, and having so many means I can experiment with various ideas about how I can improve my GMing skills.

In between games, I experiment with new characters voices, new narrative techniques, and I’ve started tinkering with the rules to try to get the game more the way I want it to play. One change for me is that I’ve learned to let go of worrying about “game balance” and to feel comfortable in my own ability to work around whatever weird thing the players want to play. If the PCs want powerful characters, they have powerful enemies. No big deal, really. I used to worry about throwing off game balance all the time, but I’ve grown a lot more confident with so many opportunities to play. I used to be a “No” DM, but now I see myself more of a “Yes, and” DM.

Finally, late in the year, this Forever-DM got the opportunity to play in a regular game of Invisible Sun with a bunch of the Monte Cook Games folks in Kansas City. It’s refreshing to get to play again, and I love observing other GMs so I can steal their ideas for how to run a great game. I should probably look for more opportunities to play so I can continue to get more ideas for growth!

As far as feelings of contentment go, I think all this game time has contributed to my feelings of a full, rich life. I look forward to a lot more of it in 2020, and I’ll probably be blogging regularly as I work out my thoughts about how to keep improving my skills in this area. It’s a hobby, but one that I really enjoy being somewhat good at. Later, I will also blog about all my 3D printing efforts aimed at building a really lush tabletop experience.

So what about you? Are you getting to roll those bones regularly? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

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Ending a Decade with Gratitude

I end the 2010s in my early 40s with a newfound gratitude and contentment for my life. Sometimes that gratitude slips, yes. I learned recently that gratitude and contentment isn’t something you feel passively as a result of doing other things; it’s something that you must actively pursue. That was an important lesson for me. I wasn’t going to be satisfied with my life and what I had unless I wanted to be satisfied, and my twenties and thirties, I did not want to be satisfied. I was hungry for recognition, to be seen. By who? For what? Who the hell knows. It was an emptiness that only grew as I achieved some of what I thought I wanted, and found that it wasn’t fulfilling in the way that I had hoped.

Getting what I wanted didn’t bring contentment! What the hell? At first I thought maybe that meant I just didn’t know what I really wanted, so I spent some time trying to figure out what it was that I wanted, changed things up. Still I didn’t feel satisfied.

Feeling truly satisfied only came when I learned to feel a deeper appreciation for that which I already had. Acquiring new possessions and accomplishments weren’t the things that gave me that feeling I was craving; it was just actively practicing appreciation for my friends, family, and place in life. Looking at things with clear eyes, and realizing how wonderfully I had it–that did the trick. I wish I could have come to this realization earlier in my life, because feeling contentment like this would have saved me a lot of anxiety and stress earlier. But I just wasn’t ready.

The other thing that happened in the past decade is that I became a father. For most of my life, it wasn’t ever something I seriously considered. I think that overpopulation is a big threat to the ecosystems of the planet, and so since I was a teenager, I believed I would not have kids so as not to contribute to the problem. It was only through considering how great of a mother Sarah would be that I started to see how much I would miss out on if we didn’t have a child. We talked and talked about it and finally decided that we were likely ready for it, and our whole worlds changed. I honestly can hardly remember what my day-to-day life was like without the kid. And having Matty in my life has brought no small amount of contentment, love, and joy. So much joy, I never even expected!

I think my favorite thing about being a Dad is experiencing his joy through him. Watching him encounter and fall in love with things makes my heart ache with love for him and the world.

All that said, I know I’m not the best Dad. I have too much of a disciplinarian streak that comes from my own upbringing (I hear my own father’s words coming out of my mouth more than I would like), but I try to have patience and provide him everything he needs. I don’t work hard enough to be a role model for him, and I want to do better. I’m confident that I will learn to do better with time. He’s our first kid, and we’re his first parents. Nobody has a road map in this situation, really.

Next, I turn to the appreciation I have in my professional life. I’ve spent a decade building Clockpunk Studios out of thin air, but I didn’t do it alone–not even close. So many friends lended me their work and their recommendations even when I probably didn’t deserve it. My early clients are like extended family to me. When J.A. Pitts passed away unexpectedly this year, it was like losing a sibling. He and Jay Lake were two of the first writers to hire me to build them sites. Over the decade, I’ve welcomed nearly a hundred different clients into the fold at Clockpunk, and I hope to welcome a few hundred more. A decade in, and I feel like I’m just getting started, and finally comfortable in what I do.

I should mention that I don’t think I would have survived the decade at Clockpunk without the assistance of several people who have worked for me or with me in some capacity. Molly Tanzer stuck it out with me even after her writing career started to take off, and put up with my constant fears and anxieties in the early days. Orrin Grey came on board next and did a fantastic job writing some of the best blog content we’ve posted and I hope to get him back soon for that. Now I have Jenn Reese working as a regular designer, and she is saving my life, you guys. Her work is so beautiful and warm and I never get tired of seeing what she’s going to do next for our clients.

These people all mean the world to me, and I’m so grateful that they are my friends. Also, heading into 2020, Sarah will be doing more and more work for Clockpunk as an admin assistant. We are concocting all sorts of interesting ideas on what she can do to help our clients.

In its first decade, Clockpunk has grown so much. I am starting 2020 with projects booked all the way until May, which is the farthest I believe I’ve ever been booked out in a January. Again? Nothing but gratitude for this. I can’t even express how much.

As a writer, well, not to end on a sour note, but the break continues. That said, I started the decade only just beginning to make sales and end it having sold stories to nearly every major market I had set my eyes upon. I will admit that I put a single little writing goal on my goals for 2020. Maybe to write just one little story, just to grease the wheels and see what happens. Who knows! I’m excited to discover what happens in 2020 for me in that regard.

I still have a lot of personal growth to do, but it is very satisfying to look back on a decade’s worth of growth, and yes even a few accomplishments. I don’t feel like I’m done; in fact, I feel like I’ve just about finished stretching and am now ready for the real jogging to begin. The only thing I can be certain of right now is that no matter what happens, I will continue doing my best to practice gratitude for what I have. I am not a religious person, but I stand here, looking out at 2020 stretching ahead, and I feel so very blessed.

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Things I Learned in 2019

Ordinarily, this time of year, I’d be focused primarily on evaluating my goals and how I did on them. I’ll still probably do that, but I thought I’d start my end of year thinking with a positive list of a few of the things I felt I have learned this year.

  1. 50% of what I thought was my “personality” was actually anxiety. Now that I take proper medication for it, I realize that I am not the person I thought I was. I’m still learning how to be without anxiety, but on the whole, it’s a net positive.
  2. The holidays are far more fun when viewed through the eyes of children. We have a tendency as adults to get wrapped up on all the obligations and stress of the holiday. Watching my five year old navigate the holidays of the year and seeing how much joy they bring him has given me tremendous joy as well.
  3. I can be handy with tools or crafty, despite my inherent clumsiness. I just need to be patient with myself when I drop the thing for the twentieth time. In 2019, I took up 3D printing and painting game terrain and figures with gusto, and I’ve slowly improved through the year. The trick with it, as it is in so many things, is patience. I don’t think I could have learned more patience if it hadn’t been for item #1 on this list, though.
  4. I can still be a creative person even if I’m not writing. For years, my creative output has been tied up almost entirely in my writing, and when the writing spigot shut off a few years ago, I was worried about what it meant. I am still not writing but the difference is, I’m not worried about it. I’m making physical objects and running three different Dungeons & Dragons groups. I’m plenty creative. If the urge to write returns, I will write. But I am the same person whether I am writing or not.
  5. How to be confident in what I know. I’ve been a freelance web designer/developer for over ten years now, and I am finally becoming confident in myself and my skills. Maybe it’s the 10,000 hours thing, maybe it’s just old age. Either way, I trust myself to figure things out given enough time and focus.
  6. By default, our concepts of beauty are linked with our concepts of youth, and that’s something we learn to change with time. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself examining my reactions to so-called beauty and often find myself wondering “is that person beautiful, or are they just young?” Physical beauty is such a fleeting thing, and I’m starting to find my eyes opening to deeper beauties than that.
  7. People as a whole aren’t terribly bright, or even well-meaning. This is probably the one thing on the list you might take as a negative, but I think I’ve spent a good part of my life being naive about the intelligence of most people. Also, I assumed most people, given the circumstances, would do the right thing. The last three years politically have demonstrated for me that they will not. I feel a little more realistic about how I expect people as a whole to behave. This is not to say that I think I’m especially smart. I think I’ve learned that we’re all prone to a lot more manipulation than we ever thought.
  8. The new Gutenberg editor in WordPress is pretty great. I resisted the change because of backwards-compatibility issues, but ultimately, I think it’s been a big step forward for the ecosystem, and I’m glad my fears have been proven wrong. I love working with it now.
  9. I may be technically middle class, but I come from working class culture, and this has broad implications for how I relate to people and my comfort levels around others. But I’m also more educated now, and it sometimes leaves me feeling like I don’t have a cultural comfort zone anymore. Not working class. Not middle class. But thanks to a discussion on Facebook, I’ve learned that I am not alone in this feeling at all.
  10. What I do for a living is not fundamentally any different from any contractor who works with plumbing or electricity. The specifics of the technology may be different, but the generalities are shared.
  11. Sometimes it feels better to give things away than it does to keep them. I wasn’t really raised with a spirit of charity – I think it’s a solidly middle class behavior/idea, to donate and volunteer – when you’re poor, you help the other poor folks around you directly as best you can, but the idea of making donations of money isn’t something you really do, at least not to my memory. But in 2019, I spent a lot of time paring down my belongings, often giving away a lot of things to others, and it felt good. When it came time for the holidays and people asked me what I wanted, I told them that I wanted donations made in my name to Heifer International. Instead of me getting some junk I could have bought for myself, a family is getting two new goats. It’s maybe my favorite gift I’ve ever received, to be honest.

How about you? What did you learn in 2019? I focused mostly on personal discovery in this list, mostly because I didn’t have the time today to properly source all the external things I learned. But feel free in the comments to share all sorts of things you learned. Share the learning as we close out the year.

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