10 things that made my 2016 (a little) better

For most people, 2016 was a fucked up, miserable, factually terrible dumpster fire of a year. Icons died, racists thrived, and everywhere you looked, someone else was telling you not to be so upset, not to take it all personally, and not to worry because they were still getting what they wanted out of life, so that must mean you’re overreacting…

No, you’re not.

Icons matter because they tell us we live in a world where our aspirations are possible, and politics matter because the choices politicians make affects every bit of our existence, and racists matter because their willingness to be vocal and noticed in major ways means that a) racism never really left*, and b) they think society is swinging back to the old, oppressive, whites-first, straight people first, ablebodied people first, and especially, aggressively, men first, ways.

* I know it never left. That’s obvious to anyone who isn’t white, and to anyone who spends any time with and caring about people who aren’t white, or even actually listening to the white racist folks all around us. But a lot of well-meaning people convinced themselves that we were living post-racially, and need the reminder that the fight for equality, in this way especially, is not nearly over.

We need to see the awful, horrible, bits of 2016 so we can fight against them. Dismissing the people who are upset about this year because it’s not been horrible to you, yet, just means you have enough privilege to have avoided what a lot of other people are going through, and you’re a selfish jackass.

But.

Recognizing that the world has been on fire doesn’t mean you can’t also appreciate the cool sips of water you manage to find in between the flames. Seeing and holding on to the good makes it possible to survive the bad, and maybe even fuel the fight against it. My 2016 has been hard not just for the larger, global reasons, but for very personal ones that mainly affect… just me. I struggled. I hurt. I was afraid, and I still am.

But… I found good in the year, too. In no particular order, here’s 10 things that got me through:

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1. Arrival. I’d read the Ted Chiang story several times before, and the movie is not quite the story — which was itself, brilliant  — but in its own way, as a translation of Chiang’s story (which is about, in part, translation)… it’s beautiful. It said things to me that I needed to hear. I got to see it just a few weeks ago, in a mostly-empty theater, at a Sunday matinee, with the love of my life, and it was a perfect couple of hours. It was a moment I needed very badly just then, and I’m so grateful I got it in exactly that way, with that person.

2. Destiny. Yes, the video game. I stumbled on the free trial at the beginning of December, found out a couple of writer/agent friends were also playing, and jumped in. I love it enough that I was given the full copy as a gift a week later, just because my happiness was obvious. The game is gorgeous, the voice actors are recognizable in a way that adds to the game (rather than distracting too much from it) and I’m good at it. When I do well, I get prizes. Yay!

I also like that it’s very mission oriented, which for me means that I can play through a mission or strike in about 20 minutes, and then I have to pause. I might have to go talk to someone to get the next mission, or turn in my engrams (they’re like… virtual carnival tickets) to get my loot, or dump stuff I’ve got too much of, but it’s a moment for my brain to think, “Ok, that’s done.” I play one mission, and then I go do other things. I’ve had favorite games before that easily lent themselves to day- or week-long binges, and if I did that with Destiny, I’d feel so guilty that it’d ruin the game for me. This is a self-indulgent fun that doesn’t interfere with me actually accomplishing things, and that’s exactly what I needed from it.

I need fun. Plus, the game devs have a lot of fun with the game. This trailer, for a new racing bike option in the latest update, is exactly what I mean.

3. The support of people I mostly know online. Other writers, fans of my fiction, students of my workshop, clients, and people who just like what I have to say have been a constant source of happiness this year. From virtual hugs to holiday cards to emails and tweets — it’s all a reminder that I am part of a larger community that cares about my well being and wants me to write more, to succeed in life. Even though I didn’t get out to any conventions this year, and won’t for at least part of next year; even though I don’t live in a big city, and often feel cut off from the writers I’ve gotten to know… I’m not entirely absent from their thoughts.

I appreciate you all, so much.

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4. My son. I rarely post about him publicly because I generally think that’s a very bad idea, but I will say that he’s doing well. He’s taller than me now, which is something we’re both getting used to, and he’s trying to find his way through those awkward teen years that’d have been difficult even if he didn’t have a serious speech disorder and an an absent father and a mother who doesn’t make enough money to do much with him. He could be an angry, selfish, terrible kid… and he’s not. He struggles, but he learns, and he is kind when I need him to be, and he loves me without reservation. As hard as it has been to figure out what he needs and how to give it to him, and as much as I sometimes resent people who have it so much easier, I’m very lucky to have this particular child. He’s a good person, and I don’t ever want to let him down.

5. The Affordable Care Act. It saved my life.

6. My bullet journal. My person has been using this system for a couple of years. He would show it to me when I asked, but never pushed it on me. Never insisted it would change my life, or anything like that. It just worked for him, and he, quietly, like he does, went on using it. Earlier this year, I finally said, “I think this might work for me, too. Can you explain it to me?” Right after work, he came over with a new Leuchtturm 1917 journal book, and walked me through exactly how to make bullet journaling fit what I needed it to do. I’ve been using it ever since as a combination diary/to do list, and it’s helped me keep days sorted from each other, plus let me look back and see how much I really am getting done, on days where I feel like I’m slacking. I feel more organized and I’ve kept on top of things I know I’d otherwise have forgotten.

(Want to try it? Start here.)

7. Deciding on life plans for the next couple of years. We sat down  a couple of times this year, and talked through what we all needed (he, and I, and us together, and us with my son) and outlined the future. I’m making some big changes, and following through on some old plans. Right now, life is still hard, especially financially, but if everything goes according to plan, that’s going to change soon enough. Where I am in a couple of years should be dramatically different from where I am now, and I can’t wait.

8. My ADHD medication. If you need help to keep your brain, or body, functioning, there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone is different, and while celebrating our differences is important and good, it’s also okay to realize that some differences might be keeping us from living — or thinking — the way we want to. As much as it’s acceptable to get a cast put on a broken leg, it should also be acceptable to seek medication for a disorder like ADHD, if it’s serious enough to impact your daily life. In my case, having ADHD is like trying to juggle a dozen different thoughts at any given moment, and forgetting half of them when I try to focus on any one. With the medication, I can hold on to a train of thought for long enough to act on it, and I stop doing things like burning food I suddenly forgot I was cooking. It doesn’t give me super powers, but it makes a big liability into a small one, so rather than trying to run a marathon while also being chained to an anchor, I’m trying to run a marathon while also feeling a bit lazy and wearing uncomfortable shoes. Things become possible, but I still have to do the work. Which, I think, is fair.

9. My midnight trip to Columbus, OH. I snuck away to join my person in Columbus, OH, for a day of touristy reminiscing about where and how he lived when he was younger. It was my only real adventure this year, a sudden, spontaneous, whirlwind of travel that involved more time on a bus (there and back) than we were actually in Columbus, but it was totally worth it.

10. My partner, my buddy, my love, my person. He knows why.

I hope you had people and moments in 2016 that were worth remembering, even as we celebrate this year finally coming to an end.

 

The 4 jobs I have (Other than Writing)

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As a freelancer, without a dayjob office to go to or set shifts, I end up working every day, and some days, weeks, blend together. To better organize my life, I track it — what I get done (and what I don’t), if I sleep, eat, take my medication, how I feel. With that data, I now know that my life is chronically overbooked, and most of jobs are unpaid. And, most of what I do isn’t what I wish I was: writing.

Freelancer: This is my dayjob (night job, weekend job). What I do for a living, the editing and content creation part, I love. The business side of it is hard, stressful, and I’m underpaid. (I don’t make enough enough month to pay my bills, putting me further into debt each month, and part of my job is to chase down more work, to remind clients to pay me… which doesn’t always happen.) I have some flexibility, though, which I badly need so I can do all of the other jobs I have, too.

Child care/advocate/special needs teacher: I’m the only parent and full-time caregiver for a very bright boy with a serious speech disorder, so I spend several hours a week being not only his mom, but his teacher, and the connection between him and the rest of the world. I have meetings with his school, his speech therapist, and the county agency that acts as the state intermediary. I interview and hire his staff, research therapies, take him to doctor’s appointments, manage his medication, and create different exercises to teach him new words in different contexts. Plus the parenting bit — feeding him and buying clothes when he grows and snuggling him when he’s sick. I’m happy to do it, no matter how much time it takes, but it does take time, every day, and I don’t have help to do it.

Housekeeper/Cook/Home and item repairs: All the things you need to do in order to keep your house clean? I do that. Cleaning up after a child? I do that. All the shopping, cooking, and figuring out how to feed us well on a small budget — which means lots of cooking from scratch — is on me, too. Because I can’t afford to replace anything, or hire anyone to fix things, I do all of that as well. On a given week this might be sewing up a ripped shirt, gluing a wooden chair back together, or  — this week — diagnosing a plumbing problem, ripping out a toilet (including cutting out rusted bolts) and replacing it with a new one, to save the labor cost my landlord would have charged. When you’re poor, you learn to fix a lot of things. I actually feel lucky that I’m capable of doing as much as I am.

Nutritionist/Trainer/Medical Care: There’s been a lot of this, the last couple of months. Surgery for the thyroid cancer, and then getting tested for everything my new insurance will cover, has meant changes to what I eat (anemic and lactose intolerant means more iron and less dairy, to start with). In the process of being sick, I put on almost 80 pounds I didn’t want, so now I have to get it back off, and learning to do that safely at this size has been a new challenge. I’ve had doctor’s appointments or blood tests almost every week for 3 months — this week alone I have four appointments and lab work. I have three daily medications (soon to be four) and a weekly one, that need to be taken at certain times, and a rescue inhaler for when I exercise. Like everything else, learning what’s causing me to be unhealthy so that I can work to be healthy takes a lot of time.

Between each of these “jobs”, I don’t leave the house as much as I’d like to. I don’t go out. I don’t watch much tv. I don’t read enough to make me happy, or sleep enough, or take a day off. Trying to find time to write fiction in the spaces these other tasks don’t occupy feels impossible, and my to do list is neverending. The stress over not being able to reliably pay my rent causes me a lot of worry, and honestly, I’m afraid on a regular basis.

But I love to write. I think it’s the thing that is going to matter the most, at the end of my life. It’s the way I can make a little bit of a difference in the world. Maybe a tiny difference, but I’ll take it if I can get it.

So, with every task and every worry I’ve got weighing me down, I still look for writing time every day. I’m not going to give up.

If you love writing too, you shouldn’t stop looking for time to write either. We can do it together.

Updates and News (July 2016 edition)

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In July:

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Abutilon (Flowering Maple) after the rain, Ithaca, New York

I started taking photographs again. Not many, yet, but I’m trying to get back into it, when I have the time. The idea that I can share a beautiful moment without having to be front and center, letting the image speak for me, is very comforting. In a way, I can be social and introverted at the same time, which suits me best.

I wrote, too, a little bit. A poem about being frustrated at the inevitable whiteness of public grief when the media covers dead and injured people of color. More words on the new stories for my Mythos collection. (You can still get it for yourself by pre-ordering it via PayPal for $2, or donating to the fundraiser in exchange for rewards like podcasts and beta reads and art.)

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Landlocked, Canadice Lake, New York

I took a day for myself — who does that? So novel! — to drive out to the middle of nowhere to meet Mercedes, and it was lovely.

I had sales and publications, too:

Sold a reprint of my flash story “Call Center Blues” to Luna Station Quarterly.

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Issue 1.3 of Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal came out, and it includes my weird SF story, “One Echo Of An August Morning”. I blogged about it here.

I updated my Amazon wish list with some things that will help my life, if you like me enough to support me that way. You can also support me through my Patreon, which gets you poetry and microfiction at the moment, and will host longer stories when more people sign up.

One of the most important things I did was…

I got set up to once again teach my favorite online workshop: Better Writing Through Brevity: Writing/Editing Microfiction and Flash! And I blogged about why you should take this class from me, here. It’s entirely online, it’s less expensive than similar workshops offered anywhere else, and it’s starting in a month, so please, check it out, and tell your friends.

I also wrestled, mostly quietly and to myself, about my work as a freelancer. Most of you know that I went back to editing and content creation full-time because it’s the only job I can work around my son’s special needs, at least until I can finish college and have a real degree to back up my decades of experience (which should let me find a better paying dayjob where I have some seniority and flexibility). I love editing, I love writing, but freelancing is more than those things, and when it’s your only income, it’s frightening.

(Need an editor? I’m available!)

July was my best month as a freelancer so far this year — I got more done, on time! and secured some new work, got paid, too — but it’s still not enough to even cover the rent. I’m very glad to be recovering (recovered?) from being sick for so long; I feel good, I’m getting things done, and I feel confident going forward that I can do more and more. I’ve been chasing new kinds of work: in addition to editing, I did a lot of writing on spec, and at least some of that should pay off eventually. After not having the brain to do a workshop all year, I’m finally ready to do a new one, and a few people have signed up so far, which helped my July income. 

On the other hand, it’s tough to work 40+ hours a week, pull a couple of all nighters, chase every opportunity I can think of — on top of parenting my child — to bring in less than I need to give my landlord this week. Much less the other unpaid bills. It’s disheartening, is what it is.

I admit that I struggle, sometimes, to get up every day and do it again. I hope August is better.

(The list of what I did in June is here.)

A little help, please.

I was certain I could finish out 2015 without having to ask for any more help from anyone, but I’ve been hit with a large and unexpected expense:

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$671 my financial aid isn’t covering – due in two weeks.

I’ll be honest – I am so tired of this. I feel like I need a vacation from email/work/everything is overdue, bills I can’t pay, the constant stress of poverty. (I don’t need to leave home tho. I like my home. I like my people, very much.) Just no matter what I do, there’s something else looming over me, and I can’t afford to let anything drop.

It’s not even the demands. It’s the roller coaster. It’s feeling buried under it all, then seeing the light, fighting to get out of it, feeling like I’m making headway: deadlines met, problems solved, bill paid, I can do this! Barely scraping by, but doing it. Then, I wake up in the morning to find another pile of stuff dropped on me out of the blue. More bills. More stress. More despair. I’m never really escaping. I suddenly feel that all my success was a trick.

Start over, try again. It’s all I can do.

If you can throw a few dollars my way, thank you.

https://www.paypal.me/CarrieCuinn

Hello Patreon (a new way to support me and my work)

Using GoFundMe, I raised almost $1000, mainly in September. It was great for a quick burst of donations, but isn’t sustainable in the long run. I still have those bills each month, a growing pile of debt, and another couple of semesters of college to get through. Plus, I never felt comfortable just taking people’s money (though I remain deeply grateful). I wanted ways to give something back to the people who supported me, in a more concrete, consistent way. So, I’ve closed the GoFundMe drive, and created a Patreon account instead.

Patreon allows people to donate small amounts, once a month. Collectively, you’ll be helping me to pay my bills while I go through college, and paying me to set aside time just for writing. My goal is to gain enough income from my Patreon that I can truly make writing into my part-time job. In exchange, you’ll get the first look at my newest poetry, flash fiction, and maybe even short stories and essays. With enough contributors, I’ll even podcast my work.

I’ve got reward levels, too: everything from getting those monthly updates to receiving a postcard or poem in the mail, or signed books. You’ll even get more here, because if I can build up a little financial security, I can go back to writing more informative blog posts and essays, shared for everyone to read.

Please check it out here: http://Patreon.com/CarrieCuinn

And thank you, so much, for your support.

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