TOTY – 28: Further Reading Required

Here we are, at the end of another trip around the sun. It’s been a whirlwind year that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Last summer, I was focused on getting all my ducks in a row for my last semester of graduate school. I was getting new roommates, and preparing to start a new job at a bookstore, which was the most exciting thing ever. Fast forward to October, and two of my grandparents were in and out of the hospital. I finished my master’s degree in December, only to promptly slip on ice and take a fall down my front steps the next morning on my way out to work. An afternoon in the ER, five weeks of being house bound, and another three of physical therapy kept me down for the count through the beginning of 2020. In mid-January I lost my grandfather, and traveled down to be with my family for the funeral on the weekend before I returned to work. I had only been back at work for about six weeks when the bookstore closed and put us all on furlough for safety due to COVID-19. In May, graduation was cancelled. At the end of June, I was officially laid off from the bookstore due to COVID-19 financial strains and being one of the lowest people on the proverbial ladder. So far, I have spent more than half of 2020 in my house. It’s been weird to say the least. Here’s hoping I can at least do something productive with the second half of the year.

Looking at my list of goals for my 27th year, it doesn’t look like I got very far, but I guess that’s to be expected given how deep in focus I was during grad school and then how home bound I’ve been since. I got into better shape, but that was only after I really hurt myself. Expect a whole post soon about my post-accident fitness journey. Being stuck at home in a pandemic has enabled me to be more conscious of my nutrition, but that’s also something that I’ll need to keep working on.
Writing is hard under normal circumstances, but I definitely hit a wall during quarantine. No fiction, no book reviews, nothing. Even reading was hard for a while. I did manage to complete two outlines last fall though, so hopefully I can turn those into full drafts this year. Things like buying a car, saving for travel, and paying off some of my student loans have to be pushed to a back burner while I find a new job, but thankfully the government has cancelled loan interest and payments until the end of September due to the pandemic. My roommates and I are still hunting for the right cat for us, but we’re hoping to find one soon.

So, what does all of that mean for the next year? It means I still have a lot of work to do. My “Theme of the Year” is Further Reading Required, because I want to keep inspiring myself to dig deeper, do more research, more learning, more exploring of myself and society. I need to take what I wanted to get done last year and bring that with me, while also continuing to push forward and weave in new skills and routines. Here’s what that’s going to look like.

TOTY 28 Goals:
1. Practice, Practice, Practice. There are a couple things I want to learn to do this year.
● Learn to do crossword puzzles.
● Learn to skateboard.
● Re-learn to play guitar.
● Learn more about nutrition and practice my cooking and baking skills.
● Learn more about personal finance.
● Learn more website design.
2. Continue to work on strength and fitness.
3. Finish at first draft manuscript by the end of August, and at least two (2) more first drafts in the next year. I’d also like to complete two (2) more outlines, and solid second draft of the manuscript I’ll be finishing in August.
4. Educate myself better on human rights issues, specifically starting with racism and white supremacy.
The current Black Lives Matter movement and my experience working through Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy has helped me to see that I am not supporting Black authors, or my Black friends and acquaintances as much as I can be, so I’m committing to reading at least two books every month by Black authors, one fiction and one non-fiction, for at least the next year. I’ve already added the following to my list, but I welcome any recommendations!
**Apologies for the present lack of accented letters. WordPress keeps deleting them, but I am working on a solution.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
She Would Be King by Wayetu Moore
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
Unraveling by Karen Lord
Queen of The Conquered by Kacen Callender
Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope
Lost Gods by Micah Yongo
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare
Red at the Bone by Jaqueline Woodson
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Becoming by Michelle Obama
The Immortal Life Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Good Talk by Mira Jacob
So You Want to Talk Race by Ijeoma Olou
Why I am No Longer talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Between the World and Me by Ta-Hehisi Coates
The Autbiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X/Alex Haley
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindess by Michelle Alexander
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

I hope that by working toward these goals I grow into a better person than I am today. I hope I find new interests and rediscover old hobbies. I hope I continue to grow in understanding and love for myself. I hope that I become better educated about society and continue to speak up for those that cannot, and amplify the voices of those who can. I also hope I have really good news to share in the next year, because the world could always use more good news.

Thank you for reading my Theme of the Year post, as you all do every year. I know they’re sometimes hokey, but I find that they really set the tone for my year and help keep me accountable throughout the next 365 days. Talk soon.

~Amanda

Past Theme of The Year Posts:
TOTY – 27: Aiming for the Stars
TOTY – 26: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise
TOTY – 25: Responsibility
TOTY – 24: Me Doing Me
TOTY – 23: Wellness and Becoming My Best Self
TOTY – 22: Why Soul Searching is NOT my Theme of the Year

TOTY – 27: Aiming for the Stars

You might think this title is cheesy, but I love it, and it’s my opinion that counts the most after all.

I turn 27 today, and I’m set to graduate with my Master’s Degree in December (I’ll walk the stage in May, 2020). This is a big year. And I have a lot of big goals I want to accomplish.

There’s a catchphrase I’ve been thinking about for well over a year, that I think sums up my ideas perfectly. It’s from Ashley Poston’s Once Upon A Con series, wherein there’s a mock-conglomerate version of Star Wars/Star Trek/Firefly/Stargate/etc… that’s called Starfield, and it’s tagline is “Look to the stars. Aim. Ignite.” I want that kind of bravery in my life, so I’m adopting it as my theme for the year. Anything is possible, you just have to work for it. So, logically, if anything is possible, why not aim for the stars?

Here are some of my long-term goal for the next year:

1 – Get a Full-Time Job in Publishing.

This summer and fall I will be relentless in the search for a full-time position somewhere in publishing. I know that I want to stay in Boston for as long as possible, and that I don’t want to be in sales or marketing, but I will take just about anything else that will pay me a living wage and give me health insurance. I don’t mean that to sound like I don’t care what job I have, it’s just that I love so many aspects of publishing that I would be pretty thrilled to work anywhere in the industry.

2 – Get in Shape.

I’m over being weak and tired all the time. After my friend’s wedding at the end of June it took me days to recover, and the leg I messed up two years ago is still a little stiff. I’m ready to be in shape again like I was when I ran track in high school. I’m determined to get into some actual strength training this year. To that end, I did my first workout in almost ten years this morning! Big shout-out to my baby sis for writing me up a workout schedule to ease me back in to the practice.

3 – Eat Well.

Now that I no longer have night classes, I’m determined to set up an actual meal schedule and cook 4-5 nights a week, eating out only on the weekends.

4 – Sleep Well.

Again, no more night classes means I can go to bed by 10pm and get up at 5:30 or 6am and actually start my day nice and slow, the way I would prefer to, with yoga, reading, and journaling.

5 – Finish a Manuscript.

I’m determined to finish at least one MS this year, ideally two. This time next year I don’t need to be in a place where I can begin submitting to agents and publishers, but I think it will be at least a great learning experience to finish writing a book.

6 – Buy a Car.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that a tree fell on my car 18 months ago, and not having one has made it increasingly harder and more expensive to visit my family and friends, not to mention get a job. I’m hoping to be able to afford a used car by this time next summer, maybe a Prius like the one I had (I fit an entire Ikea ‘Billy’ Bookshelf in there once! In a flat-pack, but still!), or something else that gets great gas mileage because my family is pretty spread out. Send me your car suggestions!

7 – Get a Cat.

While I love all of my friends’ pets, I dearly miss having a pet of my own, and I’d like to adopt a cat sometime next year once my financials stabilize. I do also love dogs, but as a new professional I don’t think I’ll be home enough to give it adequate exercise, nor would I necessarily be able to afford regular doggie daycare/dogwalker/petsitter.

8 – Pay Off $8,000.00 of My Student Loan Debt.

My goal is to be debt-free by 35, so I’m hoping to get a jump on it and pay down my principles and avoid as much interest as possible. $8,000 in a year would require me to pay $667 each month – which should be doable once I get a full-time job and probably give up most of my coffee and eating out regularly.

9 – Save for Travel.

My friends and I are planning to go to Ireland next summer, once we’ve all graduated. I’ve never been overseas, and my friends and I all have Irish heritage, so we’re desperate to visit. Flights from Boston aren’t bad either, it’s cheaper than flying to the West Coast. Aside from paying down my debt and saving for a car, this should be my only big-ticket item for the year.

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Aiming for the stars, to me, means putting aside my fears and worries and attacking my goals with renewed fervor. It doesn’t mean ignoring that part of me that always says “but what if everything goes wrong? Will I be okay?” and instead acknowledging it quickly and moving on, knowing that I will be okay and charging ahead into the unknown with a sense of peace that only comes from being okay with failing and having to start over and try again and again until something sticks. It’s simultaneously my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. The worrying makes me a great Mom-friend, a wonderful people-manager, and good judge of character, but it also holds me back from a lot of adventures and opportunities because I need to sit and weigh out all the options. The goal is not to stop doing that – that would be out of character for me completely – but to do it faster and more efficiently, to be more decisive, to start setting better boundaries on my private time and become stronger in my arguments, and to be a little more relaxed and go-with-the-flow rather than always worried about where my next step needs to be. I’m excited to see what the future holds for me at 27.

If being 26 ended up being about getting back to a sense of balance and keeping my head above water, 27 will be about blowing everything out of that water. Leaving my retail job and taking a part-time gig at a local coffee shop was the best decision I could have made this winter. I’m finally almost caught up on sleep and am finding time to read and write for pleasure again. It’s life-changing. I’m no longer volunteering at the yoga studio, but I’m trying to actually attend more yoga classes or do yoga at home. I’m focused on my health and am eating better, though still not cooking as much as I would like. I’m shopping less and more intentionally, and I’m focused on saving for the important things. I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished this year, and my hope is that this year will be just a drop in the ocean of awesome that my 27th year will bring. Here’s to my sixth year of blogging and sharing my favorite books and life-changing moments with you all. I can’t wait!

~Amanda

Past Theme of The Year Posts:
TOTY – 26: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise
TOTY – 25: Responsibility
TOTY – 24: Me Doing Me
TOTY – 23: Wellness and Becoming My Best Self
TOTY – 22: Why Soul Searching is NOT My Theme of The Year

More TOTYs:
TOTY – 28: Further Reading Required

How Shirking My To Do List Brought Me A Writing Breakthrough That Was Five Years In The Making

I had a to do list today, just like I do every day. Most days I check off nearly everything on them. In a normal job setting, I chip away at everything as a brisk pace without delay, though in my personal life I am a master of procrastination and working frantically in equal parts. I had quite the list today: apply to full-time editing jobs, apply to part-time internships, shop for groceries, do a load or two of laundry, write a book review, read a book, work on my homework. It was quite a long, and mostly inconsequential list that can wait for tomorrow.

As Tuesday is my only quiet, peaceful, truly self-ordered day, I decided to hide out in a cafe where nobody would look for me and write. Not my primary WIP, which I’ve been diligently chipping away at and should still make my self-imposed deadlines for, but the elusive portal fantasy that I poke at time and again. It’s been simmering for well over a decade now, and I go back to drop in new ingredients, add a dash of this or that, give it a stir, and occasionally add a new side dish to. Someday it will be ready, but since it doesn’t have a recipe, I just have to wait and see when that day will be.

I scraped through yesterday on heaps of coffee and well-timed naps, and though I slept deeply last night, I woke this morning to the sort of quiet world that exists in the liminal spaces of life – somewhere between sleeping and waking, where anything is possible. Every once in a while I wake to this sort of feeling, and I know that the day is ripe to dive through the portal once again and see what I can discover about the world I started inventing and exploring back in the early years of the millennium.

Today, I discovered a new character. I knew his name before but could not conjure an image of him to my mind. He had bits and pieces to his life, and I knew he was important, but whether to me or to another character I hadn’t yet puzzled out. Today I saw his face, and learned his motivations, even while I was writing the inner thoughts of another character with whom he comes into contact. It is always cheering to see a new face among my pages. Like an adventurer myself I leap excitedly into the breach that takes me to Everest, where I am always clearing out the fog and greeting the new faces I find there.

A lot of how I write this particular book is based purely on personal experience. I started it in sixth or seventh grade and fumbled through the dark of how exactly a novel was supposed to be written. I did take a novel writing class in seventh grade which helped a little, and the feedback from it helped me to shape the world that my characters now call home. However, the actual story has changed at least three times since then and probably more than ten. I blame reading The Eye of the World that same year for my enormous vision, but once I had begun to create it I was committed. I devoted entire summers and Christmas breaks during high school to developing it, and even though it’s hardly close to being finished, I’ve broken through a kind of barrier that seemed to keep the characters at arms length over the years.

Writing without a real outline while you attempt to populate a planet is both a challenge and a delight. The world is always just at the edge of my thoughts, and even when I have writer’s block or can’t for the life of me see where a scene is going, I can go back and dive into the minds of my main characters and attempt to see the world through their eyes. What would they focus in on in this scene? What would they do in this situation? How would they remember a particular moment if they reflected on it? I can hardly recall now the date when my characters came into being, or where I plucked them from, only that they were the kind of heroes I wanted to read about, and that if I were to go on an adventure I should want to be like them as I did it. They have become my most constant companions, and I’ve learned to lean into their adventures when I become stuck in my own, and vice-versa. What would R do in this situation? I ask myself, and even occasionally translate my own experiences into the context of their world so I can play them through it. Some of these writings even maneuver their way into the actual manuscript, though that is not always the case.

Today has been one of those magical days where I was able to dive into the mind of a character without becoming wrapped up in world building, and walk through their thoughts and memories of a scene I haven’t even written yet. It was through writing their memories of a scene that I came across the face of my character – he is neither new nor so old to be called that either – and finally saw the scene as they must have, meeting him for the first time. And finally, finally, I knew how to finish a scene that I have been bemoaning for at least five years. Writing is magical that way. Sometimes you have to look at a scene from every direction (including backwards into a character’s memories) to realize what needed to happen.

I am ecstatic, to say the least, that I finally know where that particular scene is going. It’s been an ongoing itch, the need to fix and finish it, and the character I met today has also been at the edge of my mind. To find that they belonged together is immensely satisfying. I feel like I just finished reading a book with a perfect, happy ending because the narrative of my story is smooth and strong once again. This scene has been a chink in my armor for nearly five years if I estimate correctly, and finally fixing it absolutely makes up for the awful day I had yesterday, not to mention all the frustration I’ve felt over the scene since I first came across it.

And now, back into the breach I go. Adventure awaits.