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2020: Year in Review

I think we can all agree that this year didn’t turn out the way any of us planned. It’s definitely one for the history books, though. As I look back on the last 12 months, I recognize the darkness that seems to have encompassed the entire world. But I want to focus on the light and, for me, there was a lot of that, too. I have much to be grateful for…

1. I officially took on a new job.

After a decade stuck in a dead end position, I finally managed to escape. It wasn’t easy. I’m not exaggerating when I say there were people actively doing everything they could to keep me in my place, but I broke through, anyway. Not only that, because of the pandemic and having to (or should I say, being allowed to) work from home, I had the best year ever as far as my day job is concerned, to the point where the executives took notice and decided to reward me with the first ever Christmas bonus I have received since starting work after college. I love my new job, my new boss, and my new coworkers. It’s a happy change from my former, miserable circumstances, and that’s wonderful. But it also takes a lot of my energy and creativity away from writing. Which means books take longer to write and publish.

2. I learned new recipes.

Being stuck in quarantine makes for a lot of nervous energy. My outlet has always been creativity, but when you’re in the middle of a crisis, the words aren’t easy to find. So I get creative in other ways. During the first few months I was stuck at home, I made my own tortillas from scratch. I also made cookies (chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin), and Brazilian cheese bread (Pao de Queijo). Happy to report that, not only did I not burn down the house, my recipes came out amazing! There were several home made pizzas as well but, since that’s not a new recipe, this is purely a point for enjoyment.

3. I made a lot of trees.

Like I said, creativity is my outlet. I saw trees like this at an event I attended a couple of years ago and they’d been itching my brain ever since. So I got some wires and some beads and got to work. Most of the trees I made became gifts for my friends and loved ones. But I did keep one or two for myself.

4. I made a map.

Okay, this one was a “Holy crap!” moment for me. See, I have this white board where I made series notes for Dawn of Ragnarok. It was just for my reference at first. But then Dragonblood happened and I wanted to make it real. I made a real effort to create a map in GIMP (my graphic design tool of choice) and made very little progress. And then Prince of Deceit came back from round 1 of edits with a note that a map might be helpful. So I went looking for map making tools and two days later, there it was. An actual map. I’m a little proud of myself for this one, I have to say.

5. I did extensive updates on my websites.

Wolfen Wide Web got a total makeover. I realized that the way I had originally done it did nothing for the content I actually wanted to share, and didn’t reflect the awesomeness of the book’s post-apocalyptic world. So I fixed it. This website got an overhaul, too. Because the more I learn about WordPress, the more I want to play. I spruced up the book pages to make them prettier, more informative, and just plain cooler. There are some awesome reviews there now.

6. I built more 3D puzzles… and now I’m done.

Turns out, I really like(d) these. I like building things when they come with comprehensive step by step instructions. LOL It’s a step up from jigsaw puzzles, which I used to do as a kid. I built three this year, the last one being a complicated train that took me two days to put together. I wanted a challenge, I got one, and conquered it. And now I’m done. Seriously, this one all but ruined my fingertips. By the end, it was pure stubbornness that kept me going. It was fun, but I’m over it now. Must find a new game to play…

7. I gave myself permission to slow down.

This one is related to #1 above (among other things). Balancing work and writing means I’m mentally burning the candle at both ends and in the middle. It’s exhausting, and the more I try to push myself to be more productive, the less productive I actually get. I burn out too often. It’s not healthy. So toward the end of this year, I gave myself permission to stop riding my own ass. I decided that writing should be fun, and if it’s not, I’m doing something wrong. I allowed myself to stop, take a break, and reassess. I’m still deciding on where to go from here, story-wise, and working hard on not being disappointed in myself for the resulting delays…

8. I got a tan!

A faint one that faded in about two weeks, but it was totally real. You may not know this, but I am perpetually pasty and usually battle a sun allergy during the summer months. If I don’t prep my skin ahead of time, the first long(ish) day in the sun burns me, and the burn turns into a rash. This year, since I was sheltering in place with a sunny deck, I took time to lay out there in carefully scheduled intervals and it worked! I didn’t burn, I didn’t break out in a rash, I actually tanned. Yeah, I’m excited. Must remember this procedure for next year.

9. I cracked the watermelon code.

Do you know how to pick a good watermelon? I do! I learned this year and I used this newfound knowledge to buy and enjoy a good number of watermelons. I love watermelons. But if you choose a bad one, you end up dragging all 20lbs of that inedible pale thing up a hill and six more blocks to get it to your kitchen only to have to toss it. NO MORE TOSSING WATERMELONS! I cracked the code.

10. I picked a lot of fruit.

And when I say “a lot” I mean buckets full. It’s become an annual tradition for my family to get together at a U-Pick farm and stock up on some amazing produce. This year, it was 2 buckets of cherries (1 of which we preserved in compote), 2 buckets of blueberries (which got compoted and frozen for future consumption), and a bucket of white peaches (which we promptly ate). I’m still in search of a farm that will let me pick my own sweet peas, but so far no luck.

11. I reorganized my stock.

My computer started to run out of storage. I had to take drastic measures. One day, during shelter in place, when I was going nuts with stress and anxiety, I plugged in a USB drive and transferred all of my stock images, videos, audios, templates, presets, animations, and other crap from my hard drive to the USB. And while I was at it, I organized it all into proper folders for easy reference. Took me hours. Worth it, though.

12. I flexed my graphic design skills.

Having revamped Wolfen Wide Web, I shared some screencaps of the result and had someone comment that they would print them out to add to the book. Which sounded like a brilliant idea to me, so I ran with it and created a “bonus content” booklet with everything from the website, and then some. It’s a portfolio piece for me as a graphic designer and an author, but not something I’ll be making widely available. It’ll make for a neat gift, though, and possibly a giveaway item in the future. We’ll see…

13. I got VIRTUAL produced as an audiobook.

Adding to my growing audiobook collection this year with Virtual. If you haven’t read this one yet, it’s a quirky contemporary science fiction not-quite-romance. Check out the sample and see how fun it turned out πŸ™‚

14. I switched my newsletter platform from MailChimp to MailerLite.

I hadn’t expected to have to do this but, at some point, MailChimp decided to do the same thing WordPress did a while back. They locked all but their most basic features into paid accounts. Now, I’m all for a business making money, but for someone like me, who sends maybe 3 newsletters a year, the cost was not justifiable. MailerLite has similar functionality to MailChimp, but their editor is much more robust and has tons of pre-formatted “blocks” you can use to build your newsletter templates. It just made more sense to me. πŸ™‚

15. I read some amazing books

  • How to Date Your Dragon (Molly Harper)
  • The Library of the Unwritten (A.J. Hackwith)
  • Love and Other Wild Things (Molly Harper)
  • Even Tree Nymphs Get The Blues (Molly Harper)
  • Chasing Cassandra (Lisa Kleypas)
  • Black Bird of the Gallows (Meg Kassel)
  • Dune (Frank Herbert)
  • Dune Messiah (Frank Herbert)
  • Children of Dune (Frank Herbert)
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
  • I, Robot (Isaac Asimov)

It’s not the list I’d planned on reading, but there is a reason I’d begun to think of 2020 as the lost year. There were new releases I’d looked forward to which never got released. Constant stress and anxiety robbed me of the desire to read, and the ability to concentrate on reading for extended periods of time. This list you see is far shorter than I’d wanted it to be, because it just turned out that way. But for every one of those books, I am grateful, because they took me away from the awful reality of 2020 to places if wonder, magic, awe, and best of all, escape.

16. I (FINALLY!) released Prince of Deceit!

The book four years in the making is finally out there! It took much longer than it should have, partly, I suspect, because somewhere inside I didn’t want to finish it. You’ll understand what I mean when you read the afterword. πŸ™‚ This was my most revised and rewritten book to date. There isn’t a single chapter in it which survived the seemingly endless rounds of revisions in its original shape. It’s in keeping with its titular character, I suppose, but I look back on it now partly amazed and partly horrified at the effort it took to complete. It isn’t like me. Sure, I edit and revise a lot, but not to this degree. I have my suspicions as to why it happened the way it did, but I may never know for sure. In the end, all that matters is that it’s finished.

17. I reclaimed my Zen (partially).

This one is important. I have been internally stumbling and off balance for a long time, long before this pandemic hit. But when that shelter-in-place order came down, everything got turned on its head. I spent months carrying so much anxiety I was physically in pain every single day for months. Waiting to see what would happen. Waiting to see if I’d get laid off like half of the employees at my day job. Waiting to see if I’d be forced to go back into the office before it was safe. Waiting to see if the entire economy would crumble. Hoping my family would come through it in one piece, physically and financially. Hoping the country wouldn’t dissolve into a civil war, again and again. Watching the skies turn dark as my state burned. Watching the circus surrounding what might well be the most historical election in a century. I tried so hard to keep myself busy, to focus on things I could control, to be productive and creative, and I failed far more often than not. Looking back on this year, yes, I did a lot, but it was busywork. It was pure reflex and muscle memory, without forethought or strategy.

18. I learned a Latvian song.

This may seem weird to anyone who spent their life listening to music with predominantly lyrics in their native tongue. I did not. English is my second language and, where I come from, the radio played songs in many different languages. I learned to appreciate them for the melody, more than the lyrics. Now that I’m grown, I still appreciate the music, but I now want to be able to follow along, or sing (badly) when the opportunity presents itself. This year, I came across this gorgeous song by a group of Latvian singers. So yeah, I looked up the lyrics and memorized them. Do I know what they mean? Not really (the translation I found is not the greatest). Does it matter? Nope! πŸ™‚ Will I be looking up more foreign lyrics from all over the world. Very likely.

This year was my 10th anniversary of becoming a published author. The day faded in significance when compared to everything else going on.

It wasn’t until November that the anxiety finally began to give way and I started to put myself back together. I’m taking stock of a lot of things in my life and deciding what’s important and what isn’t; what I can control and what I can’t.

So here we are at the dawn of a new year and, while I am hoping for the best, I need to prepare for the worst. The pandemic is far from over. The political turmoil is bound to last a while longer. The things I have struggled with this year aren’t going away. My plan for 2021 is to continue what I began in 2020: Take a good, hard look at what’s making me miserable in any given situation, and take steps to eliminate it from my life. I need to refocus on the things that make me happy.

A few things I want to keep in the forefront of my mind in the coming months:

  • No amount of money is worth working a job that makes you stressed and miserable day in and day out. (This is important!)
  • Know the value of everything in your life, including yourself. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground, and don’t settle for less than you deserve.
  • Be aware of and grateful for all the good things in your life. Each one is a privilege someone else might not have.
  • Embrace the art that feeds your soul. Focus on the beauty of creation, not the numbers game–you can’t win that, anyway.
  • Make time to let the stories bloom, and seek them everywhere–in TV, in art, in books, in music… Look for the hidden lives others are blind to.
  • Enjoy every single day you get to see sunshine, and the nights you hear the rain falling on the roof. Savor the peace and quiet as much as the discovery of a new favorite song. Live in the moment, whatever that moment may hold.
  • Forgive yourself for not being perfect. It doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy. On the contrary, your imperfections make you a priceless work of art.
  • If you’re going to spend money, spend it on things that are unique and bring you joy. It’s better to spend $50 on a hand made work of art you will enjoy for years to come than $10 on 15 mass-produced pieces of crap that’ll just end up in the recycling bin in a week.
  • Books, like pizza, are life. Repeat this to yourself often. Make time to read at least two books a month. More, if you can. And remember that books are best enjoyed with a cup of tea and a fresh slice of home made pizza.
  • Cherish you loved ones now. Today. Because you never know what tomorrow might bring.

I am so incredibly grateful for all the good things that happened to me this year, because there were many. I am grateful to be breathing, to have a roof over my head, a good job (with a fantastic boss and team of coworkers), things that bring me joy, and the opportunity to keep growing, expanding on what I know and love. I’m grateful for today’s technology which allows me to see my loved ones at a distance, and for the clear sky above my head. There is a lot of good in the world. It may be a little harder to see right now, but it’s most definitely there.

So, to ring in the new year, my wish for you, dear reader is this:

May you always find the rainbow in the rain. May your steps be met by lucky pennies. May you never want for anything you need, but find everything you want in life. May you and your loved ones be safe, healthy, and may love shelter you from the shadows you meet along your path.

Be safe, my friends. I’ll see you on the other side, in 2021.

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