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34: One thing at a time

30: Be the conductor
31: Follow the fear
32: Plant the seeds
33: Completion is freedom
34: One thing at a time

My birthday is somehow already here again, and as I realized just yesterday, that means it’s time for a yearly review!

(Past years’ entries all have this tag.)

A LOT happened this year, and I’m going to try to keep it short, because while our whole house is currently in a time warp, we’re still striving to get to bed at something resembling a decent hour (and it’s already past that, as I’m starting this…so I’m going to try to not push it too far).

We did manage to get an offer accepted on a house last summer, and while it was a bit of an adventure getting everything sorted (including but not limited to “buying the house a new roof before we closed, because the appraiser wouldn’t sign off on our mortgage until we did”), everything basically worked out in the end. So we have a house! And we live in it! And the house is full of deferred maintenance, so there are lots of things we CAN do, and will eventually want to take care of, but nothing is really urgent anymore. One step at a time.

We’re within walking distance of a bunch of friends, we host a monthly Quiet Reading Night modeled after a friend’s erstwhile Dinner For Tired People (a Friday night dinner wherein the expectations were that 1) you might eat soup, 2) you were okay with the presence of cats), we have gardening space, we have a zillion roses blooming right now, and I have my own office (a big win for me in terms of thriving as a remote worker).

Still lifting, and the gym’s just moved to its own new location (not subleasing any space anymore!). I’ve had some really good months recently of practicing moderation and being extra attentive to my form. Although I’m taking a short break at the moment, because also…

We had a baby! Like, real recently. She is 16 days old today. If you follow me on any kind of social media, you haven’t seen anything about this, and that’s been intentional. It’s been nice to share the news with people one-on-one, as we talk to them…although I think we’re at the point where that won’t really last much longer unless we keep deliberately editing her out of everything we post. (Unlikely! We’re big fans of this kid.) She’s been (knock on wood) a blessedly easy baby so far, even though the road to get here was a mess. And we are extraordinarily fortunate to (BOTH!) get several months’ paid parental leave, which is giving us a bunch of focused time as a family of three, and means we won’t need any kind of childcare until the fall. I cannot believe how lucky we are to get that much support from our employers in this country.

I don’t feel like I was as serious about completion as I’d have liked to have been this past year, but the house and baby projects have been percolating for a while now, and it’s kind of amazing to have had them both work out at about the same time.

And then I entirely forgot about the practice of writing this post until yesterday. Very unusual for me at this point, and means I haven’t been mulling over (or fretting over) possible themes for this year. (Another opportunity for completion, not perfection.)

I know I want to be especially intentional about being present this year; the parents we know all stress that these early days go so fast, even if it can seem so slow at times. I know I’d like to spend more time practicing focusing on a single thing at a time (I already know “multitasking” is a crock, but I still split my attention most of the time, especially during work). That goes for work and home, and I’m actually a bit excited to have to work harder to maintain both, because I think it’s likely to focus my attention in a different way.

I could probably say this in a million different clever ways, but keeping it simple seems like an excellent idea.

On to the next thing!

33: Completion is freedom

30: Be the conductor
31: Follow the fear
32: Plant the seeds
33: Completion is freedom

It’s my birthday, which means it’s time for a yearly review and a new theme to carry me forward!

(For previous years’ iterations, see this tag.)

I did indeed plant a lot this last year. Nathan and I got married (it was amazing, I’m so glad we did it, I have no desire to ever do it again, and we still haven’t exactly finished our thank-yous…). I love being married this time, which I expected, but which was also a relief. We went to Iceland for our honeymoon, which I have been describing as “like the moon, with flowers.” We still live in the same wonderful apartment with the same wonderful cat, who got a few teeth out this year, and is a single-fang kitty now.

I started a new role with a new company, and while I am pretty constantly overwhelmed by it, it’s my favorite job ever. I have a supportive team (who are extremely distributed around the globe), and I have the most amazing manager ever. What did it take to get here? It took getting totally fed up, writing a blog post, and sharing it. I mean, I had to do some other things, too, but it was kind of amazing how putting that out in the world really did exactly what I was hoping it’d do. I heard from three people I didn’t know, from companies I hadn’t heard of, and one of them is now my manager. It’s my first remote role, which is part of the overwhelmingness, but I keep finding myself grateful for all the lessons about remote work I learned at my last job. (I had tons of remote coworkers, and we improved our process greatly over time.)

We’re looking for a house (again), which is a bit terrifying in the current market, but unless everything (economically) comes crashing down, this might be our last opportunity to afford something in our neighborhood in Portland (all our close homeowning friends are in this neighborhood, and as a side note/reminder, “homeowner” has the word “meow” in the middle). We have a couple neighbors down the street who bought their houses four and six years ago; the market value on both their homes has about doubled since then. We’ve put in a couple offers which weren’t accepted; one, which was $60+k over asking, was in the middle of a pack of 18. Yipes. And yet. We feel pretty ridiculously fortunate to still be able to chase this dream.

I’ve been having what can most easily be summarized as “health adventures” this year (nothing scary, just frustrating), and my wonderful nurse practitioner suggested I might try seeing a Chinese medicine practitioner. (She’d kind of run out of ideas, and a western specialist she referred me to, after a lot of tests, said the best thing for now is just time.) Said Chinese medicine doctor is the first person who has looked at me without an ounce of surprise through this particular journey. Last week, I summarized this to someone as “western medicine said huh, and eastern medicine said mmm.” I’m taking two herb blends, one in tiny spherical tea pills, one in a foul-tasting powder whose flavor I described as “wrong chocolate,” and getting weekly acupuncture. It is the most positive I’ve felt about my health in a long time.

We’ve continued going to the powerlifting gym (though there was a gym divorce, and we had to pick a gym parent). Newly-split gym is a lot better in most ways, but it’s been much harder for me to track my progress over time. I’m probably better? I certainly have a bunch of muscles I couldn’t see before, which is awesome. I can pick pretty heavy things up. I can give really good piggyback rides to 7 year olds, even up hills or stairs.

I’ve continued building my 750words streak back up (1120 days today!), which feels good. I haven’t been great about writing them in the morning in a while, but I’m still doing them. It continues to be the proof I sometimes need that I can actually stick with things for a long time, even if they require regular effort. I am more likely to write my words than brush my teeth on any given day (and I brush my teeth every day!).

In short, it seems I have, indeed, planted a lot of seeds this year.

There are a lot of spaces in my life right now where I’m disappointed by my own performance, too. I’m not in trouble with anyone, but I know I could do better. I also find myself deeply irritated by the idea that it’s “just impostor syndrome,” and when I hear it, I take it as a signal that someone isn’t actually aware of both my capabilities and my performance. (To be clear, I think there’s a good dose of impostor syndrome going on, too — I just don’t think that’s all.)

In the long interminable space of unemployment, I got a lot better at many things — avoiding cabin fever, setting my own schedule, remembering to eat independent of an outside structure — but since I started my job, a lot of this feels like it’s slipping. I’m respected by my team, but not by myself. My partner’s deeply fond of me, but I’ve been slacking on my end of the bargain. I’m late for everything. I don’t tend to finish projects. I commit to things, then don’t follow through on them. I’m going through the motions, but I’m not pushing things forward. I feel like if I don’t turn my ship around somehow, it’s all going to catch up with me.

I’ve been thinking a lot, too, of how delicately I walk the line between introvert and extrovert. Having all my social contact be up to me (e.g. I have no local coworkers!) has accentuated this in a bigger way than ever before. I cannot be alone all the time — it’s awful — but I get profoundly worn out by being around people constantly for hours (or days, or weeks) on end — it’s awful. May has been social time for weeks on end.

And it’s been hard trying to settle on a theme for the year! I am intrigued by the idea of cultivating a comfort with discomfort. I want to flip “the journey is the destination” on its head, inside out. I am perpetually bothered by the idea of giving 110% percent (or even 100%), but I think I’d be thrilled with 80% or 90%. (Lately it feels more like 30%.)

Ultimately, it feels important right now to be uncomfortable. (I hear a strong echo of 31’s motto here.) I can do that because I’m coming from a place of strength and security. It’s not a dangerous discomfort I’m after — just the willingness to put myself in situations where I might make mistakes or fail (which is still a horrifying thought to me).

There are probably just a lot of ways to get there.

It would make me really uncomfortable to commit to finishing things. That seems valuable. I’m also kind of curious to see what happens.

Let’s do this.

32: Plant the seeds

30: Be the conductor
31: Follow the fear
32: Plant the seeds

For the last couple years, I have written a birthday post that goes over the year a bit, looks forward to the future, and sets a theme. I started doing this thanks to one of my birthday twins, Buster Benson, who’s been doing this for years. I started doing it at 30 and rather like the opportunity to reflect on what’s behind and anticipate what’s ahead. At 30, my theme was Be the conductor. At 31, my theme was Follow the fear, inspired by my sister Inara.

And this year? I have not really been thinking about themes, because I’ve been busy planning a wedding with my partner. This has been pretty awesome, and it has been an interesting thing to have as my primary focus.

I can’t remember what the big three scary things were last year, except for that one of them was applying to the Recurse Center.  I was convinced I wouldn’t get in, but I decided to let them make the decision, and I was awesomely wrong. Aside from my partner Nathan, nothing has changed my life in the past year as much as RC. Well, as long as we’re looking at positive changes.

I lost a lot and I shed a lot in the last year. Two friends in their early 30s died last summer, one quite suddenly and unexpectedly, and one from stage IV breast cancer. 30 and 34. I am smack in between how old they were, how old they somehow still are. They were differently important people in my life, and I am still not totally sure that the world has kept spinning without them.

Going to RC gave me the boost I needed to be sure that I really do enjoy programming. It is something that I will do all day if given the opportunity. It is something I even want to do when I am learning to live with a new layer of grief in my life. I practiced a hell of a lot of resiliency last year, and while I wish that life weren’t ripe with opportunities to do so, that’s not the way things go.

I came back to Portland, interviewed at my old company for a role on the engineering team, and was told I wasn’t a fit. It stung, but I think I’d already grieved most of the loss over the course of the summer. I turned my personal leave into an actual closing of the door, having satisfied my curiosity as to what would happen if I really went for it. It wouldn’t work out, is what would happen. And now I know. Sometimes I can make peace with not being enough, or not being the right fit, even if it’s something I really wanted at the time. I am not sure if this is one of those times, but I’m working on it.

And then we made space for life in those gaps. We got engaged under a tree in Central Park, and we exchanged engagement things (neither is a ring). We came back to Portland. We started going to an amazing little gym, something I’ve been meaning to do for years. We got a niece (I guess legally, Nathan will be Uncle Nathan in three weeks, but I’ve just been calling him that anyway. He’s got a knack with little kids and it’s a joy to see him in that role).

In three weeks, we’ll be married. I have a small amount of complicated feelings about this being my second wedding, but mostly this whole process is affirming to me that this is a terrifically good choice this time. I am engaged with my life, I am engaged with this process, I am doing something big (which I don’t know how to do) with my partner, and we’re having a really good time with it. People keep asking me if it’s stressful, if it’s the worst. Making a guest list was the worst — it taps every stressy part of me (“just rate all the people you know by how much you care about them!!”). Every other part of the process has been a joy.

What’s this year about? Oh boy, if I only knew. It’s about filling in space. It’s about building things where there’s been necessary demolition. It’s about planting seeds and watering the garden. I am seeing a theme here, despite my total belief that there wasn’t one yet.

How shall we put that, then? Plant the seeds. Yes.

31: Follow the fear!

30: Be the conductor
31: Follow the fear

It’s new-number time! And time for a new yearly theme, too. It was pretty awesome thinking about being the conductor as I rode through the age of 30, and I’m looking forward to this new number. 30 was perhaps my favorite year so far, in a lot of ways, though it wasn’t without its hard parts.

The past year has been pretty intense, really. A lot changed, and much of that change was instigated by me. I could list those changes out in bullet-point fashion (and I did, for myself), but it boils down to “stop doing things that make you unhappy” and “start or keep doing things that make you happy.”

This is, unsurprisingly, easier summarized than done.

I moved for the first time in over four years, which would have been intense enough if it involved just the old apartment (which I loved). I haven’t lived anywhere for longer than that, except the house I grew up in, and it was a bit scary to give up the physical roots I’d come to depend on. I’m hoping to put down some new ones in the next year, but for now, I’m making peace with a little more flux. The storm before the calm.

And, of course, it’s much more complex than that. That choice and that moving-time chapter represented the end of a number of different dreams. It was stressful, it was sad, it was hard, and for the cherry on top, it coincided perfectly with a really tough time at work. Emotionally, summer sucked, and fall sucked, too.

But even now, looking back, I am certain that it was the right thing for me to do. And so I made big scary choices, and I’m finding myself a lot happier and calmer for having done so.

I kept going to therapy, which I’d just started a year ago on my own. I’ve been talking pretty openly about it with friends, and a number of them have come to me with questions as they think about how it might help them in their own lives. I’m honored to be trusted by people who I admire so much, and I’m proud of them for being proactive about their overall well-being. I really believe that everyone who has the opportunity to do so should think about doing some therapy from time to time, even (especially!) if you think that everything’s more or less okay right now. It’s like a check-up, and it establishes a useful baseline if things DO get harder later.

I wish I had done it way, way sooner, although it was financially a scary prospect a few years ago.

I’ve had a rollercoaster of technical learning at work, from official on-schedule time doing Python with our ops team (outside of my usual support role), to nothing, to learning outside of work with one of our data team members (and independently). Teachers are important, but so are noisy advocates. I’m really glad to have a coworker who’s good at both, and I’m looking forward to seeing what doors we can open this year.

My partner and I camped and hiked and hiked and camped. We have camping gear now! We use it! I’ve been spending so much more time outside in the past year than I ever, ever have before, and I am so much happier for it. We even started running again (neither of us has run in years), and we ran our first 5k together in April.

I’ve never used the word “partner” with as much intention as I do these days. With him, I feel like I have superpowers. I feel so much more capable of taking on things that seem impossible; a lot of it feels like magic, but I can articulate a lot of the individual components. We’ve talked a lot about how the stories we tell ourselves can be so critical to our future actions. Part of our story is that we always talk about everything, so I never have to wonder whether or not I should bring something up. I just do. And it is stunningly easier than it’s ever been, and words keep turning into action. I am regularly amazed by the ways in which we support and encourage each other.

We’ve been looking at houses, which is fun and scary in turns. We live in an amazing apartment, which makes the hunt seem much less daunting. (The housing market, for its part, makes it seem much MORE so.)

And I’m looking into how I can support my own growth as a programmer. Learning to program is something I’ve been fitting into my schedule in fits and spurts — right now I get up early most weekdays, come into work early, and work independently or with someone else. I told myself a year ago that I’d be in a programming role by now, and I was wrong. I still know it’s work that excites me, but it’s hard to make much progress with that little time. So I’m working on being creative about how I approach this. Is that vague? Absolutely. More clarity as I build it.

For this coming year, I’m taking a page out of my older sister Inara’s (metaphorical) book (although she’s going to have a real one out before long): follow the fear.

I’ve heard her give this advice — when you find something that scares you, go after it — and I’ve seen her live this advice. We’re a northwest family, mostly. And she and her husband sold their Portland house and moved across the country to Iowa a few years ago so she could go work on an MFA. They’ve been back in Oregon this year, but they’re about to move right back to Iowa for a new job at her university. It’s far away from everyone…and it’s as though this opportunity was tailor-made for her. I am certain she’s going to be an incredible professor; her future students are so very fortunate. For my part, too, I’m grateful to have a sister that inspires me to think of huge challenges as possible.

There are a lot of things I want to do this year, and all the interesting ones terrify me. I can think of three big scary things I’m excited about, and I hope to report back next year with “yeah, and I did all of them.”

Thanks, 30, and I hope your new neighbor is just as awesome.

On being 30; on being the conductor

Every day, I write at least 750 words on 750words.com. I’ve been doing this for a while now — well over four years, in fact — and just recently tied the ribbons on my 1533-day streak. (It’s a better way to view it than “I finally broke my streak.”) It’s something I take seriously, and it is not something I share.

I thought it would be fun to do something a little different today. Below are today’s words, minus two lines and my metadata, and sans proofreading:

Here goes.

Today I’m completing my 30th rotation around the sun on this weird little blue marble we call home. This has some interesting implications (e.g. contemplation of one’s unavoidable aging, the Saturn return aspect), but mostly it is one of the things I inexplicably love best: a totally arbitrary clean slate, fresh start, opportunity to redefine things.

This sort of clear, defined deadline has helped me do all kinds of things, although at this point I mostly remember the big ones (like when I decided to go vegan, or when I first tried a taste of vegetarianism).

Much of this gets lost in the shuffle, though. It’s easy, today, to say that I feel so fresh and renewed and lo, I no longer care about what other people think of me (and truly, I have been caring a whole lot less lately, which is something I’ve heard from a number of friends about 30). It’s harder to make that last a little longer. What about in a week? What about in a month? What about on my 31st birthday?

I have a really hard time facing things that I think are difficult, even if I logically understand that they’re not. For some reason, this seems easier at these arbitrary cut-offs.

I put off listening to three voicemails from my car insurance company for months, until I finally decided this morning that I didn’t want to start my 30s with their little notification bubble on my phone. So I listened to all of them, going as far back as last December, and they all said exactly what I thought they would, and now I have no notifications on my homescreen.

A little spring cleaning.

I got a bit of extra money a couple months ago, and realized I could pay down the last $1200 or so of my student loans (I dropped out of college, a bit to my surprise, 10 years ago this month. Partial advantage: I left with a bit over $5k in loans, which I’ve been paying off at $58 a month). But did I? Nope. Too daunting. Until today, when I realized I could look up the information and send them the amount to pay it all off. And off it went electronically, and I’m officially debt-free (well, as soon as the payment posts).

These things are not complicated, and they are not difficult, and what’s more, I am entirely capable of doing them independently. The extra push of a birthday just made it seem more urgent (and urgent things are what get done). And suddenly they’re off my plate.

But I can’t wait to do everything important once a year.

There are the important things, too, that I don’t even consider THIS often. I’ve been meaning to fork Buster’s /public directory on GitHub, because I have a long history of adopting habits or rituals he’s made (e.g. 750words, Health Month, 8:36) to great success. I worry, a bit, about not creating or starting things on my own. But one thing at a time.

Buster’s been doing yearly reviews for his birthday for nine years now, starting on his 30th (see https://medium.com/@buster/38-is-good-5e72aa44b857 for this year’s). This is especially interesting to me because we share a birthday, so the reminder that I could also do this thing on this one magic day usually hits about a day too late. Even today, I’m supposed to be heading out to meet friends to celebrate a little. And instead I’m writing up things here as well.

So I’m issuing a challenge to myself: set down a few big things today, flesh them out over the next week, and consider that to be good enough for this first crack.

This year’s theme: actually, I’m not quite sure. I made myself a list and I’ve been throwing ideas on it today.

I mean, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we (okay, I) accomplish things. Ruminating a lot on the general metaphor of gathering steam, like a locomotive, and looking like you’re doing nothing for quite some time until finally, you push away from the station, and you’re on your way.

I want to be my own conductor this year, and this decade (well, and this life, but I have to start somewhere).

I want to realize that I’m on my own train, and I’m the one fueling it.

If I don’t fuel it, it won’t go.

And if someone or something keeps trying to put out my fire, I need to find ways to block that or put it out.

This is a pretty fine metaphor. (I’ve been thinking about trains a lot lately.)

So okay. The theme for 30? “Be the conductor.”

I think.

And then I’ll work on my /public repository this week. And I will start putting a little more structure into how I conceive of myself (I hope), and how I create my own storyline.