Welcome to the January 2024 edition of...
What I'm Into, What I'm Up To
On Decembers & Januaries
I've come to terms with the fact December in any year is not a good time for me to try and be productive. The most productive thing I can do is stop trying to be productive and redirect the writing-and-otherwise-laptop-centric energy into more around-the-house kinds of usefulness.
figure out Christmas stuff,
go places with the fam,
put up holiday decorations,
rearrange the house,
revisit the to-do lists,
hang out with friends and family,
try and get rid of accumulated detritus before it takes up permanent residence in our lives and home,
take stock of life,
catch up on reading and watching and playing,
charge up to get a strong start on the new year.
It turns out January is not much better than December for writing productivity.
I'm getting back to the routine with the kids in school again, but there are projects I began in December that still need finishing. Like the TV stand I mentioned in the last email. Like the treehouse which has been an ongoing project for way too long now. Like the effort to clean up and consolidate our digital services so websites get hosted and photos get backed up but all as cheaply and efficiently as possible.
Lego for grown-ups
...And like Wendy's monolithic effort to once and for all organize our immense Lego collection so even if the kids don't play with them we adults can have fun building the stuff inside all those glossy instruction booklets without having to search endlessly for that one tiny-and-impossible-to-find-but-altogether-necessary-or-else-the-whole-build-doesn't-work piece, of which there is always at least one but usually more like nine in any given set.
Prediction: Lego as an adult activity will become more and more a normal and celebrated hobby.
It's kind of like needlepoint or crochet—just as therapeutic and relaxing and satisfying—maybe more expensive with less practically functional results, but for the geeks among us, what beats building a Star Wars or Harry Potter themed building or spaceship or whole diorama in actual physical space with actual physical materials?
I was thinking about starting a Lego set rental service, where people pay a subscription to borrow Lego sets which they want to build but don't want to pay exorbitant costs for or keep in their house afterward. Puzzles would work for that idea, too. The problem in both cases would be how to handle lost pieces.
Reviewing one's life, annually
In the spirit of all this end-of-year, beginning-of-year cleaning and reevaluating and refocusing, I have gone through a quick and dirty Annual Review, taking stock of achievements and struggles of the past year, and also making a rough draft plan for what to work toward in 2024.
I initially did this annual review process in 2014, inspired by Chris Guillebeau and his annually-blogged-about exercise in self-critique and self-direction. That was the year I started and finished the first draft of my first novel, so I think the annual review was a good thing.
I have done it a few times in years since, but not with the same focusing effect. I think I need a different method, or maybe as a collaborative exercise with other 'creative professionals,' as I sometimes like to call myself. I don't know.
This year, for example, I wrote my thoughts about last year, then wrote a bunch of things I want to get done this year. And... I don't know... I just didn't feel that much more clarity or excitement about any of it. Like, I already knew these were the things I need to and want to do. To be brutally honest, I felt a little depressed actually. Maybe I'm doing it wrong. I should email Chris Guillebeau about it. I'm sure he would love more emails about his blog posts asking why following his instructions doesn't lead to warm, fuzzy feelings.
I was talking to a friend about it just this morning, and we discussed how maybe sometimes a big list of goals is helpful, but these days the routines, systems, and processes seem more important. Like, if I sit down every day for an hour or two to work on a story, eventually I will have a finished story. I know that because it's already happened. And it happened because I first decided I wanted to write a story and made it a priority and figured out how to make writing it part of my routine.
Setting deadlines for myself would probably be helpful since I want to learn to finish stories faster, but it seems like I miss my self-set deadlines more often than not so it just reinforces a feeling of failure which I have worked hard to avoid because I hate that feeling so much.
That also came up in conversation with the same friend this morning—the avoidance on my part of any commitment that might lead to a sense of failure, and his answer was basically: hurry up and get the failure over with so you can move on with your life. And that actually helped, to be honest.
Which shade of chartreuse is your parachute?
Wendy and I are also working trough the self-help career-finding classic, What Color Is Your Parachute?
My dad or someone recommended it when I was younger and I remember it being helpful, even though I'm sure I did not do all or maybe even any of the exercises in it. I knew everything back then so I didn't need any expert's help. Also I was special, so the advice probably wouldn't apply to me anyway.
Thank God for the humbling decades leading to middle age.
It's a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone in a stage of life thinking about changing things up work-wise. Especially people who don't even know what they like doing or feel like they have no valuable skills to offer.
There is a series of exercises called the Flower Diagram. Each petal of the flower is a different important element of a person's work life. The people you work with, the skills you have, the knowledge you bring, the place you work, etc. We are on the skills petal, which takes some time.
To find out your skills, and which ones you enjoy utilizing the most, you write seven or so stories about things you've done that were especially challenging, or you are especially proud of, or especially enjoyed. Then you analyze those stories using a grid of listed skills divided into three categories: people skills, data skills, thing skills—or something along those lines.
It sounds kind of ridiculous but the combination of subjectively summarizing past experiences mixed with the more objective and universal list of skills, which you just check off one by one, is actually pretty helpful.
Writing about it right now is getting me excited to get on with it and move to the next petal.
Oh no yoga
As much as it pains me to admit it, after years and years of brushing it off as something for other people, I have started doing Youtube yoga. The channel I have decided to focus my attention on for this new hobby features a stereotypically Yoga-ish young white couple who call themselves Breathe and Flow (I know, I know—also I don't know anything about them, so please don't blame me if they turn out to be into animal sacrifice or QAnon or something).
Throughout my life, I would say I have gone from being a generally poor athlete (using the word athlete in the broadest possible sense) in my pre-teens and early teen years, to a mediocre athlete once I hit a few growth spurts, to an average but tenacious athlete in my 20s, to now being a somewhat-above-average athlete as compared to all other people in my age bracket across the world's population. Actually, I am mostly thinking of fellow Americans. I feel like people my age in most other countries and cultures are more active and healthy than here, so maybe just average.
Anyway, the reason I mention my highly subjective fitness level is this: yoga is kicking my @ $ $ !
Fortunately, as painful and humbling as beginner yoga Youtube classes are to follow along with, another thing has changed in this stage of life which helps immensely—I have a greater appreciation and enjoyment of my ability to learn and get better with practice.
So, onward I yoga.
To greater and greater heights of stretch and flex, until I can keep my heels on the ground in almost any position imaginable.