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:

arrival_movie_poster

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.

6026230_fb_1442369400.7046_funds

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.

 

Updates and News (August 2016 edition), or, Damn, That Was the Hardest Month

#SFWAPro

In August:

I fell apart a bit.

I’ve said it before but this year has proven to me that the last 3 weeks of August (and the first week of September) are the hardest “month” of the year. That’s partly because of having my son home 24 hours a day without any respite, or break, or money to go out and do anything. His school year starts later than most; his first day back wasn’t until September 8, and by then, we were both ready for him to go.

We had to sit in our too-warm apartment all month — our landlord won’t let us put in an A/C unit — because it was too hot to be outside and at least we have some fans indoors. I still had to work as much as possible, and my hyperactive teen quickly became bored bored bored. With his special needs, I can’t send him out to play alone at the park, or go ride a bike, or any of the things I used to do to fill my summer days, all by myself as a kid. He’s an independent guy for the most part, wanting to play his video games or watch his favorite movies over and over for hours at a time. But even he gets tired of that much faster than I need if I’m going to put in a day’s work the way I can when he’s in school or camp.

The heat at the end of summer here is something I’m still getting used to. Growing up in California, we had heat. Hotter days. Lying out on the roof or in the grass that was dry and gone yellow, baking under the sun — my dog days of summer was late August dry heat, 100 degrees or more with no moisture in the air, and the utter joy of a sudden breeze. Here… it’s 90 degrees that feels like 95 because of 75% humidity and scattered rain every few afternoons that does nothing to cut the heat. I live in New York, but it feels like the summer I spent in Georgia, and like the bible school my aunt enrolled me in while I was there, I haven’t gotten used to it yet.

The best kid ever gets fidgety and then grumpy and then outright rebellious, given enough time trapped in a hot apartment with his mom who’s too busy and too poor to do much with him.

We did have one good adventure when I splurged on the gas on drove out to a Wal-Mart the next county over to do his back-to-school clothes shopping. Driving over the hills, the farms all green and growing, under a bright blue sky, the two of us played a game where we gave each other colors and picked out passing cars that matched. He got new clothes (not enough, but at least he wasn’t a shambles on his first day back), and a new haircut at the Wal-Mart salon (I didn’t even know they had those, did you?), and five whole dollars to spend in the arcade (I didn’t know Wal-Mart had those, either).

He was driving the Nascar game (of course) when a little girl sat at the Fast and Furious game next to him. She and her grandma couldn’t figure out how to get started, so Logan — silently — reached over and set it up so she could race the car she wanted, then went back to his game. Kid can barely speak, but he’s so smart and sweet and he didn’t just figure out what they were struggling with, but he wanted to help.

As hard as raising him is, and it is, a lot, my son always reminds me that he’s worth everything I do for him. Continue reading

3 Weeks Post-Surgery: Mostly Good (Even the Cancer Part)

Three weeks ago, I went to the hospital for surgery. They removed half of my thyroid, because it had developed nodules (what they call thyroid tumors they suspect are benign) and had swollen up enough that it pressed against my trachea, and the nerve that controlled my vocal cords. I was having trouble breathing, at times, and my voice had started to go froggy. Of course, there was the year, going on two, before that of me starting to go downhill physically  – tired all of the time, gaining weight, struggling to stay on task or complete things on time – but after dealing with a doctor who insisted it was just me being a woman, getting older, I’d found one who was actually willing to do lab work and sort it out. I was diagnosed with anemia, and started medication for that. Aside from the pressure on my throat, I should have been on the mend.

I didn’t quite feel it, though. A little better… but still, something was wrong.

We agonized over the decision to cut out part of my thyroid. It’s a simple, safe, outpatient procedure, except that it’s still surgery, which is never guaranteed 100% safe. My SO and I talked it over, made plans for dealing with what would come next if I didn’t make it out okay, and decided (supported by my surgeon’s opinion) that it’s better to get the swollen part of my thyroid out now before it got bigger and did some real damage. I felt it, a literal lump in my throat, every time I swallowed. Every time I tried to exercise and had to breathe harder. When I laid down for sleep, and the lump shifted a little, pressing on a new spot I hadn’t yet learned to ignore.

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ that lies flat, for most people, and has the volume of a peanut on each side. My right side wasn’t visible from the outside, so you wouldn’t know unless you saw a sonogram that it was the size of a jawbreaker, and growing. Inside were two nodules; the bigger one had been biopsied three times since it was found three years ago, and declared benign, though I was told in 2013 that it was collapsing and would get smaller – we discovered in May that it had actually gotten larger.

The smaller one was labeled “suspicious” by the sonogram tech during this round of tests, but was .1 mm too small for a biopsy to be considered necessary, according to the current medical guidelines, so I was told not to worry. We’d wait, they said, and check on it again next year.

If I hadn’t opted to remove the larger side of my thyroid, that nodule would still be there. Continue reading

Reflection, 2015

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.