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2015 Year in Review

photo (11)This was a year of abundant expectations followed by abundant distractions. Looking back, there’s no way I could have planned the year I had, but I am satisfied with it in general.

From a numbers standpoint, I didn’t come close to meeting my reading and writing goals. I barely read half the number of books I intended to read, and I didn’t finish either of my works in progress. As usual, the extent to which I read was directly proportional to the extent to which I wrote. That’s something to work on next year.

However, I diversified my reading list quite a bit, which was the reading goal that I considered the most important. And although I didn’t set out to do so, I can see a marked improvement in my ability to make and attain reasonable small-range goals with my writing, which will help with the long-range goals eventually, so I’m happy about that.

My word for the year was fun. I learned five things about myself and fun this year.

  1. Fun is not something I can force. At the beginning of the year, I spent a lot of energy making lists about what I thought fun should look like, and apparently I forgot that I have a full-time job and that I am not independently wealthy, because the things on those lists definitely reached beyond my time and funding resources. Frustrated that I couldn’t make my lists happen by sheer force of will but unwilling to be thwarted, I became determined to find the fun in everything I did, no matter how mundane it seemed on the surface.

Y’all. Some things are boring, and they don’t magically become less boring just because I try to make them fun. In fact, trying to do so is the exact opposite of fun; it takes dull to a whole new level. Just as there are always going to be fools who don’t love me regardless of how utterly delightful I am, there are going to be things in life I need to do that aren’t going to be the best thing ever. And that’s okay. Not every experience has to be a barrel of monkeys.

  1. I don’t understand spontaneity. For me, it is a stealer of joy. I have the soul of a planner, and I embrace it. I revel in the anticipation of upcoming events. Even if it’s something as simple as a whole glorious Saturday spent at home, knowing that it’s coming makes my whole week better.

But then the call comes. 9:00 a.m., Saturday morning. “Hey, what are you up to? Want to get breakfast?”

Yes. Yes, I do. Breakfast is – hands down – the best food outing, and you are my beloved friend. Delicious meal + spending time with you = a double dose of my favorite things. Of course I want to get breakfast with you.

The problem is that, knowing I had the whole day to do it, I put off doing laundry until I had no clean clothes left, and I just finished hand-washing all my bras, because I didn’t have plans to go anywhere. So I will show up for breakfast in clothes from the least smelly pile, looking like a toddler dressed me and wearing the old jogging bra that is a size too small. And that last mound of laundry will stare at me, judging me, throughout the next week, because a sudden outing means that I no longer have time to finish it all.

Had you called on Thursday and made plans for Saturday brunch, I would not be in this predicament. I would have happily done a couple of loads of laundry Friday night, giddy with excitement about seeing you the next morning. I could have worn normal things to have breakfast with you and still finished all the work I wanted to finish.

I could have had it all.

Spontaneity not only robs me of the joy of looking forward to having plans with my friends, but also robs me of time needed to accomplish what I meant to do instead. I don’t understand what’s appealing about that, and a year of trying to understand has not cleared it up.

  1. I don’t think I’m in the minority on this subject. Many of my friends who claim to love being spontaneous do not actually behave accordingly. I call bullshit.

Early in the year, I made an effort to adjust to them. Just because I don’t like spontaneity doesn’t make them wrong. They can like what they like. And it didn’t seem fair to expect them to always do things my way. So for a couple of months, I intentionally pared down my schedule to the basics. I left as many weeknights free as possible, and I was able to free up almost all the weekends. If no one called me to do something during my free time, I picked something to do and texted someone to invite them. Worst case scenario – I would have a reading night if nothing came up.

The results? If I had followed these guidelines for six months instead of only two, I would have reached my reading goal this year.

I didn’t see any of my friends more often than I usually do. In fact, I spent a lot more money at coffee shops than normal, because when I stopped making real plans, I hardly ever saw anyone. I would go to the square just to be around people, which is out of character for me. It takes an extreme amount of solitude for me to get tired of it.

I have more fun when I make plans, and I don’t think that’s rare. I think most people feel more valued when their friends go to the trouble to set time aside for them.

  1. I have a harder time having fun when I’m alone in public. The only exception is spending the occasional afternoon reading at the coffee shop or wine bar, although I won’t actually be alone there for long. Strangers love to talk to me when I’m reading. They just can’t help themselves.

When I go to a movie, I want to go with a friend. If I’m going to sit still in the same place for that long, I want someone I know sitting beside me. I don’t always need to talk about the movie afterward, but I want to have the option to do so.

If I’m shopping for clothes, shoes, or books, I want someone I know to be in the store so that we can engage in immediate celebration when I find something I love. I have zero interest in delaying that particular gratification.

Grocery stores stress me out, but if go shopping with someone, my anxiety level is significantly lower. I sometimes don’t even have to remind myself not to hyperventilate.

Going to a party by myself? NOPE.

One concern I had at the first of the year was that I had become more reclusive, as evidenced by my spending more nights at home by myself. As I began to make more of an effort to go out, I discovered that it wasn’t my disposition that changed; it was my company. The people I used to go out with when they, too, were single are now spending their evenings at home with their families (which is healthy – I don’t begrudge them that). If I really want to go out more often, I just need to find more people.

  1. Not teaching this semester has been fun. Really fun. I thought I would miss it, but I haven’t missed it at all. I miss the paycheck but not the job. And now that I’ve joined the church choir and have taken up TV nights with Tammy, I’m not sure where I’d even find the time. I don’t feel that fond nostalgia you get when you are at peace with moving on but still enjoy the memories. The memory enjoyment phase may be on its way, but it hasn’t shown up yet.

This sheds a curious light on my plans to get a PhD. That’s a lot of money to spend on a degree if I would be earning it just to have it. I know that the value of an education extends far beyond getting a job, but there are less expensive ways to further my education. And if I am changing careers – if I really am done with teaching – and the new career doesn’t require the diploma, I’m not sure how badly I want it anymore. I also feel a little panicky at the thought of deciding to let it go, so I’m not ready yet. But letting it go for good is now a maybe that I haven’t considered before.

 

So that’s my year in review. How was your year?

 

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Language

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I have always been told that I’m good at languages.

I’m not sure exactly what that means, but hey – it’s something I’m good at – I’ll take it.

I took a couple of years of Spanish in high school, four semesters of Latin in undergrad, and three semesters of German in grad school. Of course, I still have all the books.

I’ve also added to them. I will often buy books in one of the languages I’ve taken to practice my skills. I will also purchase books in languages I have absolutely no training in, because I like the title (In Praise of Yiddish) or because I recently read a book (by Murakami) and thought, “That was a nice paragraph. I bet that was beautiful in its original language” (and thus had to buy a book of Japanese phrases). I have several books on Portuguese because I want to travel someday to Brazil, and I am trying to learn Italian (and they said the Latin was a waste of time!) because I not only want to travel there but also because I found a cookbook that I need to read.

I’m obsessed with Duolingo.

I know that I will probably only become marginally proficient (I can ask for the bathroom and order coffee in at least five languages), but it’s a fun pursuit.

I’m writing 31 Days of Shelfies.

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31 Days of Shelfies

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My project this October is going to be 31 Days of Shelfies. A shelfie, as defined by MacMillan Dictionary, is  “a picture which is taken, usually by a smartphone or a similar device of somebody with a bookshelf or bookshelves behind them,” or just a picture taken of bookshelves. I am going to take broader liberties and define shelfie as “any picture I take that has a shelf in it.”

Don’t worry – it’s not just going to be shelves. Not that there would be anything wrong with that.

The way I usually put together a blog post is to write the post and then find or take a picture to complement the post. This month, I am practicing the reverse. I am writing posts from photo prompts. Picture-taking (and the visual arts in general) don’t come naturally to me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t improve what tiny skills I have. This month, I am going to practice taking better pictures and noticing what makes each picture better. This month, my content will be at the mercy of my pictures.

These photos (and their subsequent posts…ideally) will fall into four basic categories:

  1. A bookshelf + me. I thought of doing just 31 days of selfies, but I couldn’t get excited about it. I don’t really understand selfies. I mean, I support other people’s choice to take them for whatever reason they want to do so. But for myself, I’m usually left thinking, “Why?”  Unless there’s something new that I’m doing with my hair or something I’m wearing, I look pretty much the same as I did the last time I took a picture. People know what I look like. They don’t need a daily selfie from me, and I don’t require it for myself. But myself plus a bookshelf? I can make that interesting.
  2. A bookshelf by itself. Who knows where this will lead? I anticipate that I will be writing book reviews and telling stories about specific books that have meant something special to me.
  3. Friday five – a stack of five different books each Friday that I have read or am reading and why I recommend them.
  4. Non-book shelves. Because books – while wildly important – are not the only things in life. On the weekends, I will be showing other shelves to remind myself to take my nose out of the books every once in a while.

I hope you enjoy it!

Master list of posts:

  1. Master page (this one)
  2. Friday Five: Five Favorite Stories From Childhood
  3. Cape Cod Shelf
  4. Warmth and Well-Being
  5. Banned Books
  6. Sweet Valley High
  7. The L Shelves
  8.  My Books
  9.  Friday Five: Five Books on Moving
  10. Fandom Friends
  11.  In Defense of TV
  12. Cooking for One
  13. Manners!
  14. Have Food, Will Travel
  15. Happy Hour
  16. Friday Five – Five Favorite Food Writers
  17. Homebody
  18. (break)
  19. Hanging out with Allende
  20. Virtual Shelfie
  21. Schooling
  22. For the Love of Libraries
  23. Friday Five – Five Voices that Shaped Me
  24. Memories and Inspiration
  25. Reformation Sunday
  26. Friends of the Library – Fort Worth
  27. Read This Next
  28. The Play’s the Thing
  29. Language
  30. Friday Five – Five Books That Have Changed Me
  31. Acknowledgements

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I have noticed my attitude about my neighborhood changing lately. And I am grateful.

Yes, it’s loud. Yes, that’s annoying.

Yes, it gets the short end of the stick (I’m looking at you, impending DME Substation. By “Other sites…weren’t viable,” they do seem to mean, “Other neighborhoods would have cost too much money to demolish. Let’s screw the low-income people.” Or at least that’s how it looks.)

It’s also multicultural. The loud music that vibrates my windows? I never know what it’s going to be. It could be country or bachata or rap. All of these things (and everything in between) ring through my neighborhood on a daily basis. And I think I’m the minority in my apartment building (numerically speaking, at least. The socio-cultural essence of minority status has little to do with the numbers).

It’s also within walking distance from my main job. That’s pretty convenient, even if I never, ever walk. Because Texas. And construction.

I dream of having a house with a yard so I can garden and have a grill. I would love to have room for a piano (and also a home with a ground floor on which to put it). I covet other people’s pantries and kitchens. But I have everything I need in my little apartment, and lately, I have found it charming.

So I’m going to stop procrastinating when it comes to things like putting up the towel rack in the bathroom and the coat rack by the door. I’m going to sweep off her stoop and buy her a new doormat. I am going to buy frames and hang more pictures. For the foreseeable future, I’m going to make my apartment my home.

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Every year, June tries to make me love summer. It doesn’t succeed, but it’s persistent in its effort. This summer it almost had me.

I mean – just look at it –

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June, you gorgeous thing.

Of course, now the temperatures are climbing, and I’m in a constant state of being a snack for bugs, so any potential goodwill I had toward summer is now out the window. But June tried. Oh, it tried!

I started the month off at my parents’ farm. I originally planned the trip to help with their planters, but they had already finished the ones they are going to put out this year by the time I got there. So I helped them watch TV and eat a lot of food. I am very helpful in both those regards. It was such a relaxing week.

I saw two movies in the theater this month. Of course, I had to go see Pitch Perfect 2. It was pretty funny. Before I went to see it, my friend Kim said, “I just want to say two words – We Belong. Best part.” It really was. I laughed and laughed. I also went to see Spy. It was hilarious, but that’s not even the thing I liked most about it. When I read that Melissa McCarthy was cast as an agent, I expected the movie to make her out to be this bumbling, lovable character who succeeds despite her incompetence. But no. She kicked ass. They specifically cast someone who doesn’t fit the physical stereotype of the role and then make her awesome at it. Also, Jason Statham is adorable and funny. Favorite thing I’ve seen in a theater in a long time.

It has been a roller coaster of a news month. Between the police incident in McKinney and the shooting in Charleston and all consenting adults actually being able to marry the consenting adult of their choice in all 50 states and black churches burning…whew.  I really have to get a computer at home again, because my poor little phone just can’t keep up. I’m going to write more about this tomorrow, but this month, I’m really into my church. The way they have brought these stories to the foreground of our discussions and have not shied away from the parts that make us uneasy and constantly ask what work we have to do – I just love it there.

Another wonderful thing that happened this month is a little cherub named Savvy turned three:

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She started out pretty subdued at her party, but before long, she was a little burst of joy:

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I just love that giggle.

I read so much this month. Most of the things I read has some sort of justice theme running through them, which seems fitting. My favorite novels were Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor (AMAZING end to this trilogy) and Peaches for Father Francis by Joanne Harris. I also bathed in the poetry of Nayyirah Waheed – Salt was my favorite collection.

My dad and I bond over The Chew, so I took a couple of Carla Hall’s cookbooks with me when I visited. I liked Cooking with Love, but I liked Carla’s Comfort Foods better. I blame her for my newfound obsession with tarragon (particularly in a lemon cream sauce). And if I ever meet her, I’m going to thank her for teaching me what no one else in my life has before – how to get perfect rice by baking it. Did any of you know how to do this and just not tell me? It’s so simple, and it makes so much sense (basically, bring water and rice to a boil and then cover it and put it in a 350-degree oven to steam). How have I lived this long and not known this?!

You can see more of what I’ve read this month (and this year, for that matter) at my Goodreads page.

My favorite thing about this June is that it has been infused with dance.

I read Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, and seventeen pages of notes later, all these stories of dance have kicked my writing life back into gear. I am going to be processing it for a long time.

As always, I am loving So You Think You Can DanceI haven’t made it through all the auditions yet, because I keep rewatching the ones I like. I get so excited for them when they get that ticket to Vegas!

And I don’t know if you heard me squealing with delight all the way from where you are, but Misty Copeland, one of my favorite dancers of all time, became the first black female principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater.

This June made a beautiful case for summer.


I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer – come join us and tell us what your June was like!

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Well, hello! I am coming to you halfway through my decadent two weeks off from work. I’m actually sitting in the office now, but I am not above crawling under the desk if I see someone peer in.

(Just kidding, Housing. I’ll go see what they want and direct them accordingly.)

Unpopular opinion of the month: I’m totally into this rain. Yes, it has mosquito-ed up the joint, and it has been dangerous in places. It was actually flooding so much that my mom called the Thursday before Mother’s Day and said, “Don’t come home this weekend. We’re flooded in.” I do hate when my plans are thwarted, but I love the rain. I’m going to be sad to see it go, for it will be replaced by a heat that rivals the pit of Hell.

May is always a weird month.

The first part of the month is crazy  – last two weeks of school, closing down the building, etc. Our hall won Hall of the Year. I’m so excited for them. They worked so hard; I’m glad it was recognized. I also won an award at the final staff meeting – Best Sarcasm. Heh. They know me well. We also decorated mason jars. Mine became a vase:

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The last half of the month? Awesome and easy. We got everything filed away last week, trained for summer, and made the summer schedule. Then I got to hang out with some Story Sisters and drink wine with Michelle.

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This week? Staycation. Happy. I have made four (four!) trips to the recycling bins. I feel very productive. Also, I have not gotten out of bed earlier than 9:00 any day this week.

I have read more than usual this month. My favorites were Wicked by Gregory Maguire (I know – it’s about time) and Citizen by Claudia Rankine (READ IT). Goodreads keeps reminding me that I’m 19 books behind schedule, but what Goodreads doesn’t know is that it’s summer now, and summer is my big reading season. Prepare to be amazed, Goodreads.

Well, I’m off for another week. I might peck out a post on my cell phone, but I make no promises.

I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer. Come tell us what you’re into!

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I am renewing my lease today for another year at my apartment. My tiny apartment in the crowded neighborhood with terrible parking. I thought I would be out of there by now. I’m not sure that I planned to make that happen; it was just a meandering thought.

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(It looked so huge…when it was empty)

So here I am again, facing another year in a space that makes having people over particularly challenging.

When I had been in the apartment about a year, a friend who used to come to all my parties said, “You haven’t had a party in a while. When’s the next one?” And I didn’t have an answer. It didn’t seem like a big deal to invite 15 people over when I had a big kitchen and an extra bedroom for books and television. But with the office and the kitchen overflow and the living room all crammed into one room, we start tripping over one another when there are just six guests. There were only four of us Sunday night, and I still had to hop up on the couch at one point to let someone pass by.

The thought of the cookie party where at one point we had forty-something people present makes me want to crawl under the table and hide.

I am not willing to go another year without a party, though, so I’ve been thinking – what if the parties were all-day, come-and-go affairs instead of events with a beginning, middle, and end?

For example, when Maggie and I had Pie Weekend, we told people to come over any time. Sure, there were times that were busier than others, but we got to host small groups of people throughout the weekend, and it was fun. As an added bonus, people just ate whatever we had available at the time they visited (and we literally baked pies all weekend), so the pressure of having enough was off. Having enough was not a problem.

I’ve already started brainstorming the types of parties I would like to have:

  • Hemingway Day – Held on or around July 21 (Hemingway’s birthday), the menu would be simple but good (like his sentences) and laden with alcohol (like…well…Hemingway).
  • St. Patrick’s Day – A day of Irish food and drink, but really just an excuse to start my birthday celebration a day early.
  • Cookie Weekend – Some weekend in early-to-mid-December, combining my favorite things about cookie party (dress up, bring your own tin, and for the love of all that is holy take these cookies!) with my favorite things about pie weekend (communal baking and drinking).
  • Write-ins – Bring your work in progress, whether it’s a story, poem, art piece, etc., and spend some time on it, drinking good coffee or tea and eating delicious things while you work.

So we will see what this next year brings. It could be a failure. But it could be wonderful.

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