2020: Downhill

There are less than six months left in 2020. (Aside: I want to be able to write “There is less than six months left in 2020,” because I’m less interested in the countable number of months than in the uncountable amount of time, but it just looks so completely wrong that I can’t bring myself to do it. (Other aside: remember this pedantry later.)) I have yet again set goals for these next six months, which I plan to share for accountability!

But also! As I said last time, it seems crazy to be setting goals right now, what with all the trust in the future that that requires. If the first half of 2020 has taught us anything, it might be that we really can’t count on life looking any particular way at any particular time. Sometimes things just change. Sometimes there are murder hornets and maybe also flying snakes and they’re not even that big of a deal because there is so much else going on.

I’m not one for sports analogies. I needed help understanding the problem when Pete Buttigieg, way back many years ago in January, referred to Kobe Bryant’s achievements on the “field.” But even I understand the inherent drama about entering the second half of a sport thing. Are we up? Are we down? Do we have everything to lose or everything to gain? Etc.

And I think if I understood sports, I’d know that you can’t plan the second half until you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team. Here’s the thing: I always expect future-me to be an absolute superhero, a champion of efficiency who may also be able to time-travel, who squeezes 24 hours of productivity into an 8-hour day. She bears no relation to present-me, but I applaud present-me for this optimism.

So my work recently has been to accept that present-me, who needs a lie-down between tasks and who sometimes comes to covered in chip dust at the bottom of a Wikipedia k-hole, is the one I’m asking to do all of this. I’ve tried to give her a reasonable ask.

After that scale-back, I’m feeling pretty okay about my ability to do what I set out to do in the second half of 2020. Here’s what I’m aiming for:

  1. Take an online course on intuitive eating (half done)
  2. Play the piano at least three days per week, and be able to play one specific song fluently by the end of the year.
  3. Write a SFD (shitty first draft) of Book Three. (Note: this one I’m not at all sure will happen. “Not with that attitude!” you may object. But…seriously.)
  4. Perfect my query letter and send 60 queries for Book One.

Check back in 6 months to see how it went, assuming the internet still exists and I have not been murdered by hornets.

(Now, a final note on pedantry and the efficiency of present-me: I got waylaid for literally 24 hours by whether to say there “are” or “is” less than six months left in 2020. This is not the behavior that future-me expects from present-me! As a team, we will have to work on this.)

Goals in the now-times

Back in the before-times, I made some goals for the first six months of 2020.

lol.

It had been my intention all along to come back here and check in on those goals at the end of June. But as you may have noticed, the world has been doing something that looks a lot like falling apart, or (more hopefully) metamorphosing, between then and now.

I had no idea in early January that in the next six months I’d be up against a long bout with pneumonia, a global pandemic, a big transition in my family, major social upheaval, and getting ready to move apartments.

But here we are!

Mural on the Metropolitan Branch Trail by @marnimanning, used with permission.

These are over-the-top, bang-you-over-the-head type reminders that we are not in control of circumstances. We are not in control of the future. But making goals is an act of putting trust in the future.

That’s a tension I struggle with. I often look into the future with a jaundiced eye, unable to believe that anything good will come of it unless I wring it out with sheer effort. I’m consistently wrong about this. Time demands that I understand it will always surprise me.

Despite all this, I’m going to do a little reflection over the next few days to figure out what I want to put my attention and energy to in the second half of 2020. I’m going to set goals exactly as I did in January. I do not know what the world or my own circumstances will look like in late December. I’m going to try to live in that place between trust in the future and humility in my own ability to control it.

All that said, how did I do on 2020 goals part 1?

  • Querying Book One: ✔️
  • Semi-detailed outline for Book Three and reading at least one research book: ✔️
  • Therapy at least once a month: ✔️
  • Comfortably running ~5 miles regularly: Absolutely not in this climate. Migraine city. Could reassess once the swamp cools down this fall. Could not.

Honestly, I’ve never felt more grateful that I happen to be an introvert.

Still sun, the other one

Today is the summer solstice: the first day of summer, and also the day the light starts falling back again, little by little.

Isn’t that interesting, that the beginning of something can be also when it starts to end? Ooh, aah, a metaphor.

My fear of scarcity manifests as this desperate white-knuckle desire to do it all, fill the day, squeeze every last bit out of the time, check the boxes. And then that task-masker self spurs rebellion from the other self, who refuses to comply, who manages to be late to work even when the commute is about thirty feet and doesn’t even require clothing, because she would rather lie in bed reading, or who passive-aggressively zones out during meetings playing Vertex (highly recommended).

It’s a weird mix, living with both of us at once.

But it’s actually fine. Both of us, together, we do manage to pursue our goals, and also to rest and connect. And, with some help, we’re learning to follow our joy first and foremost. Listen to that little spark that is delight, and watch it ignite. Follow that.

So that’s what I’m choosing to take from this solstice, the sun’s pause, the top of her magnificent annual stretch. Don’t give into the temptation to listen to the scarcity, which might say “There it goes. The nights will get longer from here on out. You haven’t made the most of the summer,” or the day, or the weekend, or the vacation*, or whatever it is. “You haven’t accomplished enough. There won’t be time to do it all.”

Instead, try the enoughness. Let the long light today be enough. That’s where life is located, I think.

*remember vacations?

Hypocrisy and discomfort

I generally don’t think it’s terribly interesting to point out someone else’s hypocrisy. Judging from the internet, mine is not a popular view. You’ll find all kinds of this style of argument, if you dare to look:

“How can you support X when you didn’t support Y?”

“How can you complain about A when B didn’t bother you?”

X, Y, A, and B can be anything you like, really. Claims of corruption in your party vs. comparable claims of comparable corruption in the other party. Trust in one scientific consensus and distrust in another one. Tolerating speeding but not jaywalking, I don’t know.

Too often, this is a bad move, as it exposes both parties’ hypocrisy (after all, if I support Y but not X, it doesn’t really put me in a good light to complain about someone else supporting X but not Y. If my claim is that X and Y are equivalent, then we’re both hypocrites.) Plus, I find it a bit dull. And worst of all, it doesn’t ever seem to move people, so it’s just fighting for fighting’s sake, which is basically my least favorite thing.

But!

Isn’t it interesting that…

I just find it funny how

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You are not a dog.

This post is about plagiarism. 


First, a story. Last week, I unwatched some internet drama unfold. I won’t name names, but here’s a brief recap: a white woman wrote some journaling prompts for confronting one’s relationship to racism. A black woman accused her of plagiarizing some of these prompts from her viral blog post from a few years back. The black woman asked for an apology in a specific form. The white woman complied. 

Here’s what happened to me: when I looked at the black woman’s comparisons of the two posts, I didn’t see the plagiarism. I saw two sets of writings on the same topic, yes, but where the wording overlapped, I saw fairly general statements. I saw coincidence in syntax, in other words, not plagiarism. I was looking at it like a copyright lawyer.

But I kept paying attention, and finally I did see it. I finally heard and understood what the black woman was saying: the white woman took it upon herself to write journaling prompts about antiracism, and she did not credit the many black people who have articulated these concepts before her, even the ones who taught her these concepts.

It is irrelevant whether she wrote the sentences based on the black woman’s particular post or not. The white woman’s post itself is a problem: it arises from white people’s tendency to charge in and reinvent a wheel that black people have already been making.

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False choices and wrong answers.

All I have to add is this: we are often given a choice between human lives and property. What will we protect? What will we focus our attention on?

There’s a wrong answer, and it’s property.

But, you may protest, depending on the issue:

  • two wrongs don’t make a right!
  • they’re detracting from their cause!
  • people have to work to live!
  • they’re hurting the innocent!
  • money doesn’t grow on trees!
  • you would feel differently if your property were in jeopardy!

All of them valid points, if you look at them in a vacuum. But looking at them in a vacuum means turning your eyes down and away from the human lives before you.

You protest again: This is a false choice. Human life is unsustainable without money, property, sustenance.

Yes, it is a false choice. The deck is stacked. It makes us miserly and fearful.

A perfect world would be one in which we no longer have to choose between life and property.

A just world is one in which we make the right choice.

Overprocessing

My computer is getting older, so it can’t handle running too many processes at once. But I still force it to hold fifteen tabs across two browsers that I really do intend to read soon, and some sheet music, and various Google Docs for writing projects, plus two different word processors for two different writing projects I’m simultaneously working on (with the help, obviously, of the Google Docs).

I was trying to also live-stream my church service, while flipping back and forth between all of this information (because the church service wouldn’t stream properly, so I kept getting bored, and that means more tabs need to be open to assuage my boredom, which further prevented the church stream from working.)

All at once it occurred to me: of course the live stream can’t load with all that demand on this old laptop. This is the exact same reason my brain often doesn’t seem to work anymore, and it shorts out when one more process is added (typically a noise is what takes me over the edge into cannot-function: this added stimulation completely fries me).

I’m always pulling myself in twenty directions, always dipping my toes in many little streams of information at once, asking my poor cognition to handle reading five books at a time and listening to podcasts and working and writing lots of unrelated things.

It makes sense that nothing makes sense, in conditions like that.

So I opened a new tab to write this insight down.

Burying my darlings

Apparently Faulkner didn’t say it, nor did Wilde or Welty or Chekhov. Instead, it was an obscure Cornish writer named Arthur Quiller-Couch who said that you must kill (in his words, “murder”) your darlings.

(Side note: Quiller-Couch published his novels under the pseudonym “Q.” I wonder if the QAnon people know that their long-lived deep-state hero also spent decades as a novelist and literary critic, centuries after writing a lost source for the Gospels. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are fortunate.))

“Kill your darlings” is one of the most hackneyed pieces of writing advice out there, but it’s a cliché only because it’s completely true. To edit well, you must kill your darlings. Delete the little turns of phrase, the scenes, the characters, that you adore but which are weighing down your piece.

It’s way harsh.

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January 25, 2015

The breeze is drawing little crosshatch patterns on the tidewater like skin seen from close up. 

The Sound is so inaccessible but this gap feels like infinite breathing room. Big splooshes of invisible fishes nearby, and waterfowl and bald eagles. We’re still in view of housing developments but we all get a respite anyway. 

There’s the universal smell of saltwater and damp ancient rocks. 

Up days, down days

“How’s it going?”

If you have any answer to this than “it depends,” I want to know your secrets.

This whole situation (you know the one I mean) has been basically this:

Can you relate? I think the only variable is the relative length of time the solid days last vs. the hell zone. Sometimes, honestly, it’s 1-to-1.

Fortunately, I’m a veteran of this crazy-making oscillation, because I make myself write for fun! Writing hell zones are frequent, but on the plus side, the “solid days” are much better than solid.

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