- Read more of everything.
- Books are great, read those. But there are also newspapers and online news sites, short fiction, poetry, magazines, graffiti in bathroom stalls, motivational sayings at the bottoms of posters featuring kittens dangling precariously. Anything you enjoy reading, you should read more of. Anything that seems informative, you should read more of. Then, you should seek out the opposite information and read that, too, so you can decide for yourself which side you think is correct. Probably, the truth is somewhere in the middle. It tends to be. But the more you read, the better informed you are, and the better chance that you’ll be able to sort these things out for yourself.
- Go for more walks.
- Move purposely, out in the world, alone with your own thoughts. Look around the scenery. Stand up straight as you walk. Don’t hurry. Don’t dawdle.
- Sleep whenever you can.
- If you’re not being productive, if you’re tired, if you feel frustrated by your aging body’s desire to do less than your brain deems necessary at any given moment – go to bed. Rest. Nap. Sleep for many glorious hours. Whatever your body needs, do it. You’ll feel better, snap less, get more done, and generally be healthier.
- Replace every instance of “ferret” with: “they’re weasels, man, not pets; they’re fucking weasels“.
- Cook more often.
- I don’t mean heating food according to the package directions. Make something from scratch. Taste all of the ingredients. Roll them around on your tongue. Know the individual flavors of everything going into your food. Use ingredients you adore. Love your food.
- Every once in a while, refrain from saying something. You don’t always need to. You can listen, instead.
- Pick one thing you are unhappy about, and fix it.
- It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but it can be. That’s up to you. Just find one thing that’s making your life worse, a thing or a person or a way of being that you’re trying to ignore, and find a solution. Get rid of it. Have it repaired. Break up with it. Move away from it. Rearrange it. Ship it off to where it actually belongs. Whatever you need to do, stop putting it off, and get it done.
- Laugh every chance you get.
- Give something away. Preferably to someone who needs it, or someone that you would love to have the thing, or – if that fails – to a charity which could use the thing. You really don’t need all of those things.
- Take a day off. Listen to some music. Take a walk. Kiss someone you fancy. Eat a nice lunch. Maybe have a nap. Whatever you want, as long as you don’t do anything important at all.
Looking back over 2015, and really, over the last several years, it’s immediately obvious that I have had a lot of struggles. My life now is vastly different from where it was 10 years ago. I’ve left California – where I was born and raised and never intended to leave – to drive across the county, trying out Philadelphia and New Jersey before ending up in a little city in Central New York. I adore it here, and now I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
I went from starting community college at 31, with a new baby, to the last semester of my BA in a History of Art degree at an Ivy League university – only to run out of loans, leave school, struggle to find work, and end up back in community college pursuing a (much more marketable) degree in business. I started freelancing as an editor, and found, one by one, all the ways that freelancing can be a disaster, all the ways I can screw up.
I screwed up as a writer, too, missing opportunities and losing the time and focus I am desperate to put into my writing, spent on dealing with everything else.
I’ve been unemployed – I am, at the moment, uncertain how I’m going to pay the rent next week. I’ve been scared about whether I can provide for my son so much more than I ever thought possible.
My son was diagnosed with a severe speech disorder and autism and ADHD, and we were given a laundry list of all the things he’d never be able to do wit his life. I have spent most of his life being worried and frustrated, struggling to communicate with him, to teach him, to be his advocate; I’ve spent countless hours fighting the state, the school systems, doctors, teachers – anyone who wanted to give up on my son – and educating myself in the process. I’ve done it mostly alone, without any family or good friends close by.
I know I’ve made mistakes, made bad choices, broke down, and been lost. But my child has grown up, found his voice, and exceeds even my expectations, every day. He’s well on his way to becoming a man who can graduate school, go to college, live on his own, and make a life for himself. Not now, not for years and maybe not in the way you’d usually think, but someday.
I was married, and now I’m not. The idea of caring for a child with a disability was the last straw for a man who already didn’t want to make a better life for us, only for himself. We were left without a father for my son, without a partner for me, without child support. We haven’t seen or heard from him in years, and I don’t expect he’ll ever see us again. It was his choice, but in choosing him (and every other bad relationship in my life), it was my failure too.
Over the years, I’ve realized how much I didn’t know. I was horrible with finances, and life-long poverty had never given me a chance to learn. I was never taught how to do well in school, how to be organized and on time, and I had to teach myself while going to college and raising a child. This last semester, going back to college (without the childcare and support I had before) made me relearn it again.
I had a undiagnosed eating disorder for most of my adult life. Over the last few years, I’ve figured that out, sought treatment, sorted myself out, and begun the long process toward a healthier life. But all the years of dieting and fighting with food and “succeeding” only to gain it back… All that time, I spent disappointed in myself.
I didn’t know how to make a healthy relationship work either. That may have been the biggest failure of my life. So much drama, hurt, wasted time, wasted money, wasted opportunities.
And then, randomly, I found the person I was looking for. The last five years has been hard on us both, as we taught and challenged and supported each other while we both figured out what love and family and a real, solid, partnership was. I don’t know I’ve ever put so much into another relationship, another adult human being, in my entire life, and along the way, I’ve discovered who I really want to be. And a person who inspires me to be my very best.
Today I am dwelling in my failures. I have made grand efforts, and I have failed. I admit that. I have to.
But I am so loved. I have a family now that I never believed possible. Not easy (never easy) but worth it, and the foundation for the best possible future. I’m writing again. I have a plan for a better life. I fought for that, and that I won.
The rest is a temporary state of learning from my mistakes before back I get up, and try again. I regret every mistake, every failure, every time I hurt someone else or let myself down, every wasted moment. But I don’t regret where I’ve ended up, or the beautiful life in front of me. I just need to make it happen.
It’s a fair question. Many people talk about how they would love a life where they spend most of their time at home with their child. Writers often talk about how they’d love to not have a day job, to spend hours a day with nothing to do but write. So what could I – a mom, a freelancer, a college student, without a day job – have to complain about?
The fantasy of staying home only works when you have support. You need a way to pay the bills, a way to get a break from the childcare (if that’s part of your life), a group of people to share and interact with. What if you didn’t have that?
I live with my son in a small college town, on the opposite coast from where I grew up. I have one person in this town. He’s a wonderful person, he’s everything that I could want him to be, but he’s the only one I’ve got to lean on. I have no friends close by. I have no family. My mother lives in California, and not only is she raising my nephew, she was in an accident a few years ago that left her with multiple pins and plates in her leg. After pt and more surgeries, she’s starting to be able to walk again, but hasn’t yet been able to fly out to visit.
My son’s father’s family isn’t in his life. His father decided that he didn’t want a child with a disability, that having to visit on time or pay child support were too much trouble, and so he disappeared about five years ago. His parents, my son’s paternal grandparents, have other grandchildren they’d rather spend their time on. Grandkids that talk.
My son doesn’t, much. He has Childhood Apraxia of Speech, also known as Verbal Dyspraxia. It’s a bit like dyslexia for words. He understands a lot of what you say to him; he’s smart enough that even without language, he can operate computers, phones, video games. He’s pretty certain he knows how to drive a car. (No, I don’t let him.) He’s in the right math class for his grade. He can get by, with help, in mainstream class, with typical kids. But he’s got what we call “a Doctor Suess vocabulary”. He can regularly get out about as many words as a typical toddler. But he’s almost a teenager, with all the thoughts and interests of any 12 year old. Worse, he’s known since he was a little child that he has a speech disorder. He has so much he wants to say, but he can’t get it out.
Imagine how frustrating that would be.
When he has a bad day, I’m who he has. When his school isn’t giving him what he needs, I’m his advocate. When he’s sick, I’m who stays home with him. When he can’t be in school, I can’t be at work. When he’s angry at himself, which is every day, I’m there to help him calm down, take a breath, find the words he’s struggling to get out. I replace his shirts when he’s chewed through them – a bad habit he can’t seem to break, since it’s how he deals with the constant pressure of facial muscles that won’t do exactly what he needs them to do. I try to figure out how to teach him all of the little things you usually pick up from conversations he’s not yet capable to having.
He doesn’t spend the night at a friend’s house. He doesn’t go to grandma’s for the weekend. If I go to a convention, I have to hire a babysitter. (When I went to DragonCon, I had to hire three, so there would be enough coverage for the whole weekend.) I run errands when he’s at school, or in the middle of the night when he’s sleeping. I worry, all the time, about what his life will be when he’s 16, 18, 20, 30…
To have a real dayjob, I need to be able to hire someone to be with my son when I can’t. The kind of jobs I’ve been able to get so far don’t pay enough for that. Going to college for a degree in business – a field with much greater job opportunities – is my chance to be employed with a salary that will pay for the help I need to make certain my son has his best chance at life. My best chance at life, too.
I have this dream that one day, I’ll have a day job that pays the bills. I’ll be able to stop spending all of my “free time” chasing clients, and instead I’ll be able to write as much as I want, instead of stealing hours from sleep and studying. I’ll be able to go on a date with my person, instead of spending every night at home with my son. (We love him! But leaving the house sounds really nice, too.) I will be able to take my son to the waterpark he asked to go to all summer, or buy him new clothes each time he gets taller.
I’ll have a life that isn’t juggling expenses to figure out which I can pay and which I can ignore, paying my rent three weeks late (like I did this month), and being afraid, all the time, that something will happen I can’t fix.
To get there, I need to get through this semester. To do that, I need your help. I don’t have family to turn to you. I just have all of you.
You can access my GoFundMe page here.
I AM OFFICIALLY A COLLEGE STUDENT (AGAIN).*
It was a tough decision. Being laid off from my job last month means that I have the time now to finally finish up my degree, and to actually switch to a major which will make me much more employable than my previous work in Art History. But with no opportunity to get Pell Grants or loans for school, I’m not being paid to attend college — I’m just adding full time school to my regular life, and without a day job right now, I’m already struggling to make enough money. How do I decide to spend money on college when I don’t know whether I’m paying my rent in a few days? How do I not go to school when I have this opportunity now, it will make me more employable, a much better freelancer, and generally a more useful person?
Ultimately, I decided to do my best, and make this work.
I’ll be going for two semesters at community college for an AS in Business Management, and then two semesters at state for a BS in Business, Economics, and Management (with a minor in public administration). I still need to come up with part of the tuition so I can start school — asap! — but I’ve been awarded grants that will cover 80% of classes and books, maybe a little more. It’ll be tough, balancing work, kid, and full time college, but hopefully I can get to where being unemployed and in debt is somewhere I never have to be again.
That’s if I can find the rest of the money to get started. If any of you have ever wanted to take a workshop from me, hire me as an editor, proofer, book designer, anything — or even loan me money until after the semester starts, now would be the time that I really need it.
How you can help:
- I’m happy to offer a discount to anyone who books me for editing this month. Take advantage of me!
- My next workshop — Plotting the Short Story — begins on the 15th. If you’re interested in a low-cost online workshop, packed full of exercises and advice from me and your fellow students, please check out my upcoming workshops. With school and work, I’m not sure how many of these (if any) I’ll be able to offer next year. Now’s the time to join us!
- Don’t need any work done now but you’d like to help me buy textbooks and school supplies? You can donate to me via PayPal.
If you’ve got other work you’d like to discuss with me, need a mailing address, or have questions, please feel free to contact me at cuinnedits at gmail.
* At some point I should probably also tell the story of I used up all of my federal grants and maxed out my student loans going to the University of Pennsylvania, only to have it run out one semester before graduation… But that story depresses me so much. Maybe next time.
Where I live, we have several options for buying food. In addition to the local grocery store chain, there’s a fancy yuppie market, a “whole foods” -style store that sells a lot of vegan/veggie foods, a farmer’s market (a couple of days of week through the summer), an Aldi, Walmart, an Asian market… even the Target has a grocery section. Usually, I do one or two big shopping trips to Aldi a month, and that covers everything except for what I get at the Asian market (lumpia wrappers, pancit noodles, etc), and a a trip to the chain store to get the few items I can’t get otherwise (or I’ll get them if I have to go to Target that month).
The last few weeks I’ve been so busy that instead of taking the time to shop at Aldi*, I’ve been picking up just what I need most, at the chain store. It’s much more expensive, and though it’s quick, it’s a time spent on lot of little trips. Plus, instead of having a fridge full of food to choose from, I end up stressed and annoyed that I don’t have choices; I don’t eat as healthily, and it’s tempting to get fast food or order delivery instead of yet another trip to the store to get dinner…