Welcome to 2017

It doesn’t feel that different. But, the week between holidays has been a good week to take stock of how the year went and what I’d like to do in the next one.

And I’ll be honest, one of the things I’ve wondered about is whether I want to keep up this blog. I have limited time decision-making power, and there are a few writing projects that I’ve got burning right now, and this blog? Well, it just hasn’t been making the cut. Which is why you didn’t see me around here in December.

But, I like using this format as a way to see what I’ve been doing and where I’ve been improving. I like some public accountability (at least to the three people who read this on a regular basis). So I want to take the pressure off. In 2017, my goal is to write 2 blog posts a month: one at the beginning and one in the middle, just to see how I’m doing with whatever I’m doing. That’s it. I’m dialing it back to see how it feels.

Speaking of dialing it back, I am an inveterate resolution maker. I love resolutions. I’ve already made an uncountable number of resolutions for 2017, but the first one is the most important one: nothing new in January.

Yep. That’s my first resolution, my first experiment of 2017: do nothing. No new fitness program. No new healthy eating. No new writing resolutions. Nope. Just get through January doing what I’m doing and taking care of myself. Am I already planning to cheat? Maybe. Doing nothing is hard when the whole world seems to be embarking on some new project or aspiration!

I’ll still be checking in financially here too (oh yeah, those goals aren’t going away). Here’s how 2016 stacked up:

Total Income:   $28,985
Total Expense: $26,770
Difference:           $2,215

Financial Forecasting on the Eve of All Hallow’s Eve

Greetings ghouls and goblins!

Actually, nothing in this post has anything to do with Halloween, but since it is my third favorite holiday (1. Thanksgiving, 2. my birthday) I thought I would at least acknowledge it here. It is a cool, grey southern California day; a good day for staying inside with a book, which is how I hope to spend the next few hours.

But first, to the numbers!

Income: $2,086
Expenses: $2,318
Difference: -$232

Ew, that’s painful to write. Let’s break it down a little deeper:

  • After returning from the scarf wedding, my computer screen decided to give out, just after the warranty expired, so that was $385 to repair. Unpleasant, but glorious to have it back and operational now.
  • I spent less on gifts ($62) and more on eating out ($161), and more on fun money ($122): a drag show with my sister making up the bulk of the “fun” expenditures. It was fun, so I can’t feel too bad, but if I could have spent less in these categories, the number above wouldn’t be so awful.
  • Groceries and gas remained normal. My rent is going up in December by $75, but still well under market rate.
  • I gave only $2 to a certain political candidate, not because she doesn’t deserve more, but because I think I’ve done enough. We’ll see on November 8th, I suppose. Feel free to tar and feather me if I’m wrong.

Alright then! New challenge for November! No spend November! NoNo November! I put my foot down, I stand where I am and I say, no more in November! Why should I spend so much on eating out? Why should I spend so much on fun? Are there not beans and cashews in my cupboard? Are there not books sitting unread on my shelves?

For the month of November, I commit to a daily accounting of my spending, here on this blog. It may not be long, it certainly won’t be pretty. But I shall do it. If I succeed, I will crow here and probably open a bottle of champagne (already have one chilling in the fridge conveniently). If I fail, I will fail here, publicly and get back up again.

I already know that there will be times that I fail. For instance, in week one: I will need to renew my license on this here website domain. I also invited out some work colleagues next Friday after a big presentation. I am heading to New York. It is Thanksgiving, people!

There are stumbling blocks. There will be failures. But I hope, come November 30th, that there will also be victories.

Manifesto for a Spending Fast

  • Pack a lunch.
  • Make a plan. Don’t get upset if life has different ideas.
  • Roll with change. But don’t roll over just because something is tough.
  • Make a grocery list. Remember snacks.
  • Carry your own water bottle.
  • Bike if you can.
  • Take care of Needs before Wants.
  • Know the difference between ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t.’ I can buy a new book, but I won’t.
  • Be honest. coffeecupThe more you say “that’s not in my budget,” the easier it will get.
  • Savor. The contrast of a grapefruit in a green bowl. Sugar in the first cup of coffee. The pleasure of a cold shower after exercise. The familiarity of your day to day surroundings: the apartment, the beach.Avoid temptation. It will find you anyway.
  • Search your feelings (Luke…) before you buy something. Are you hungry? Angry? Lonely? What’s the root cause?
  • Give love. Give attention. Give time.
  • Don’t forget to give love, attention and time to yourself too.
  • Share what you have.
  • Say thank you.

Why I have to stop multi-tasking

A couple days ago, I wrote a poem. Made a poem might be more accurate, since it was a newspaper black-out poem in the Austin Kleon style, and it was hard, particularly because his poems are so good and profound and mine that night was not.  It took a lot of focus and I was pretty grumpy while writing it. I was also cooking lentils in the kitchen, not two feet away from where I was sitting with newspapers scattered all over the table and a cat trying to burrow beneath my poem.

I put extra water on the lentils. I remembered from last time that lentils take an inordinate amount of time to cook (especially when you are hungry). I figured the pot would boil over before it would burn.

And then, you guessed it, in the middle of fighting with the cat over whether the sports section was for poetry or digging (poetry won), the lentils burned. I lifted the lid and smoke came out. I scalded the bottom of the pot and had to throw away the lentils and start over with the other pot. Scott’s been fighting to get it clean ever since.*

The lesson here is that even when something seems simple, don’t ignore it. Don’t leave it on autopilot because you think you know how lentils cook. Just cook the lentils. Save the poetry for after dinner when you aren’t hungry and grouchy. In retrospect, I should have swept the floor or done the dishes, stirring the lentils occasionally, paying attention to them, instead of burying myself in the New York Times.

I have always been a multitasker. One task has often been too easy, not enough of challenge. Add two or three or seven, and suddenly it seems exciting, but that is an illusion. When I multitask, I miss the moment. I miss the chance to smell the lentils before they burn, to take a second to stop doing-doing-doing all the time, and just breathe. Do something human. Make dinner. Relax.

Instead of multitasking, I want to be able to focus. I don’t want six browser windows open at the same time. I want to see the one thing in front of me, to really see it, and to enjoy it for what it is.

*I would do my part, but he’s home more.

5 Things I’ve Learned in the First 5 Days of Writing a Novel

  1. I am better at procrastination than I ever thought possible. Seemingly unimportant things have gained new urgency now that I’m writing a novel. Like, for instance, cleaning my bathroom. Or watching Gilmore Girls. Or picking the cat’s nose (really tempting when she’s right in front of me like right now). All the time I thought I would have to write keeps getting taken up by these things. Mostly the first two. Picking the cat’s nose takes very little time. Also, is it just me or is the internet suddenly overflowing with essential articles, lists and even quizzes?
  2. Writing a novel is like catnip to HK. I get out my computer, and before I even start, she’s in my lap, blocking my view of the screen. This is how I know her nose needs to be picked.
  3. Writing a novel is hard work. Really hard. Sometimes impossible. I’m not sure if I’ll have written a novel at the end of this month or if I’ll have just written a big jumble of words.
  4. Along those lines, my writing is crap, and I know it, literally as it appears on the screen, which is one of the reasons that writing a novel is such hardwork. Yesterday, I would have rather stabbed myself with a pen than continued. Today was better.
  5. I need to listen to this Ira Glass quote before, after, and during writing. It helps with the pen-stabbing. Also, I’ll do anything that Ira Glass says, so if he says to do a lot of bad work, that’s okay then.

January Resolutions

Like I’ve said before, I love making resolutions. Making resolutions is like crack to me. I make one and then another pops into my mind and then another and then another, and before too long I’ve figured out the 67 things I need to do in order to achieve perfection!

But since that cycle has never worked in the past, I’m trying to stay focused on three resolutions. Well, maybe a few more. Here are the official three for January, plus any side resolutions:

  • For family: go on an adventure with Scott once a week.
  • For work: bike to work once a week.
  • For fun: write a novel.

That’s right, I’m writing a novel in January–following Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! inspiration. It’s a big goal, so I’m trying to avoid thinking of any other “fun” resolutions (like making more resolutions), but at the end of the month, I’ll know whether I can write a novel in a month. Also, you should expect a drastic drop off in blog posts if I am actually making my word count.

My work and fun resolutions are fairly interchangeable this month. I’m biking to work for work but it is to make work a little more fun. I’m writing a novel because it sounds like so much fun, which is one of the reasons I think writing probably ought to be my work.

But wait! There’s more! Of course there’s more. I can’t stop at three, not even a big one like writing a novel in 31 days. Here are my side resolutions.

  • Give up alcohol for the month, aka Drynuary
  • Forgive myself for any failures of spending (or others–working, eating, sleeping, reading) this month. This is a parallel resolution to writing a novel–such a monumental task is going to require some wiggle room everywhere else.

I am still hoping to read one book for family, fun and work this month, but I realize with writing a novel, it may not happen that way. Rereading No Plot? No Problem! may count as my “work” read. I don’t have fun or family picked out yet, but I’ve been desperately wanting to reread The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, so one of those may win out.

Currently reading: American Gods by Neil Gaiman (for book club, which is fun, but I’d rather be reading LoTR).

December Reflections

The month is almost over and as usual, I am raring to go forward into January, but first a look back at December’s resolutions.

December’s Resolutions
For work: post something creative each day
For fun: give myself a daily present
For family: kiss in the morning, kiss at night (and family dinners still)

This month I started using the “Habit Bull” app on my phone to keep track of my goals, since everything was a daily goal. I liked the app mostly for the clever and frequent reminders about my resolutions–it helped keep me on track, or at least, it didn’t annoy me or make me feel guilty even when I got off track. Which of course, I did.

The problem with daily resolutions is that by definition there isn’t a margin of error. So for instance, when I got sick and stopped following my resolution to  kiss in the morning and at night because of germs and then Scott went out of town, there’s no get out of jail free card. Fortunately, there’s no jail either. Out of 25 days, I met this goal 13 days.

I didn’t track family dinners on Habit Bull since it wasn’t an “official” goal, so I can’t say for sure how well we did. It also dropped off because I was sick and Scott went out of town. I think that this is a permanent 2015 goal though, so we’ll revisit.

The same goes for work. I posted something 12 out of 25 days. Part of the problem was time, part of the problem was running out of things to say. Still, having this resolution probably meant that I posted more than I would have otherwise, so that’s a net positive. If I were to do something with this theme again, I might have “do something creative every day” and post less often– maybe every other day, or once a week. I’m going to see if I can finish out the month with a streak though, so expect to see something here tomorrow.

1 Daily Present was my favorite resolution. I successfully gave myself a present every single day. The cynic in me thinks I cheated, because most of the time, I just appreciated what I had or gave myself a break, but I’m counting it. Some days were big presents like buying Eula Biss’s new book, On Immunity (huge, I know). Some days were little presents, like watching an episode of Gilmore Girls that I was probably already going to watch. But giving myself one daily present made me so much kinder and gentler with myself, and it made me appreciate what I have so much more that I really can’t recommend it enough as a practice. It seems selfish or self-indulgent on the surface but it is so kind. Like family dinners, this is probably another permanent resolution.

I made a couple of side resolutions this month–to bike to work once a week and to avoid restaurants. I failed on both counts, biking to work only once all month and eating in restaurants 10 out of 25 days. Yikes. I still think I spent less on restaurants than in December though.

I also finished the books I planned to read, plus a couple extra this month:

Just Finished:
For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope
The Best of It: New and Selected Poems by Kay Ryan (I sort of skipped around, but I think I got most of them read)
No Plot? No Problem!: a low-stresss, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days by Chris Baty

Currently Reading:
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Up Next:
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk  by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lammott

January is a tough time for me because the temptation to make new resolutions is overwhelming (and apparently itybn spills over into my reading list). There’s the tried and not-so-true exercise everyday resolution, write every day resolution, lose weight resolution, give up sugar/alcohol resolutions, the list goes on. I have to keep in mind that I already have three questions that I’m asking myself this year*, and a plan for answering them, so there’s no need to go wild with resolutions again. Focus on what I already have.

Like I said, I hope to finish December with a streak of posts. Some topics to expect in the next few days include what I got out of For Better, resolutions for January, a money update, maybe another blackout poem, and a surprise.

*The questions, in case you forgot, are:
What makes a (good) family?
What do I want to do with my life?
What is fun and how do I have it?

Back on the horse

I am only posting today because it has been three days since I last posted. I’d give you an update on my habits and money, but that’s boring (and also I realize the topic of my blog?). Here’s what I have to confess instead:

I am bad at budgets.

There, I said it. I am bad at budgets. I said it again. I am terrible at making a prediction (a budget) and making it stick. I can’t predict what my car repair will cost or when I will feel the siren call of Plumeria (the answer is always). But this is not the real reason that I am bad at budgets.

The real reason I am bad at budgets is because I am bad at margins of error (or Marge Enoverra as Click and Clack the Tapit Brothers would say). I have no built in margin of error. I have no margin of car-catastrophe or restaurant-eating-when-I-said-wouldn’t. Basically, I have no margin of humanness in my planning, which means that everything must be 100% success immediately or it is a 100% failure. I am a binary code.

Even in habit formation, I have no margin of error. I set a goal to post a blog or social media thingy (like the cool kids) everyday for a month. Not 5 days a week. Not once a week. Every day. There’s no room there for getting home late or feeling a little cruddy so going to bed instead.

This is coming off as a pretty complain-y post and that’s not how I feel. I’m having more of an “oh huh, time to reset my expectations for myself” moment than anything else, like I’m remembering that I’m not the robot I thought I was and that means that I probably need to start taking the occasional spontaneous restaurant meal (or missed post or skipped workout or or or or) into account instead of treating it like a crime punishable by firing squad.

Kiss in the morning, kiss at night: 8 of 8
One Daily Present 8 of 8
Daily Blog or SM post: 5 of 8

What I’m Reading:
For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope