Year End Reflections

I like New Year’s Eve/Day, for the same reason I like Valentine’s Day. Yes, I suppose we should make goals and reflect on our lives and reach again for the things we want every day, not just at the beginning of the year. But we don’t. Sometimes it’s nice to have a marked occasion for it. (Just like, on Valentine’s, it’s nice to have a marked occasion to express the love we should express every day anyway but sometimes don’t.)

I might do a post tomorrow on goals for 2015, but for now, here’s 2014 in review: it was a heckuva year.

10 11 Highlights

Signed with my agent (and I got to meet said agent in NYC)

– And I couldn’t have picked a better one. Not only did this career step make me feel validated as a writer, but it felt like a good life choice, something I’d be grateful for not just this year, but all the years to come.

Graduated with my bachelors degree

Had something published with an international audience

Swam in the Atlantic ocean (and then dolphins swim just where I’d been swimming)

Whale-watching in Tadoussac

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My brother came home after serving two years in Washington D.C.

I got a pretty cool new sister-in-law (because that same brother got married)

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Finally went to New York City and saw four Broadway shows, on Broadway

– Four different mornings I got on the subway to Times Square, where I’d wait in line for an hour with my book and get the student rush ticket, then I’d romp about the city and come back to see the show that night (or afternoon, if I got the matinee); it was lovely.

Went airboating in the Everglades

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Making new friends/connecting with old ones

– I guess this is not technically specific to 2014, but they were still some of the best parts of this year.

Seeing my name printed in a book’s acknowledgements as an editor

– P.S. You should go buy that book (“Little Dead Riding Hood”); the illustrations are pretty snazzy too.

5 Disappointments

Submission is a nasty thing, and I hate it

– I had this goal to be published before I graduated. That way, I wouldn’t have to get a real grown-up job. (Ha ha ha.) I signed with my agent in March, and technically graduated in August, so I thought – well, I may not be published, but there’s a good chance I could get a book deal pretty close to graduation, so that counts. But getting a book ready for submission takes a long time, and even getting there does not mean your book will be published. This year, it wasn’t so much the “not knowing” that was hard, as it was me putting off finding an actual job on the hope that my writing could possibly support me. The disappointment wasn’t failing (that’s still pending), it was, I would say, accepting I might have an average climb to success instead of a Cinderella story. (Which I know sounds obvious. It’s my flaw and strength to dream big first and then be disappointed.)

That awful apartment that was only $100

– This was the year of making almost no money and chasing dreams. And there was one apartment I stayed in over the summer that was . . . well. It will make a great detail to my still-pending “success” story to know that I once lived in such squalor. The place was awful. But it was only $100 a month. Chasing dreams is nice, but being an educated adult with no money is a bummer.

Thinking ponderously about running for half a year, but not really doing it

– Ha ha ha. Nothing quite like unrealized good intentions to make you feel good about yourself.

My first C in an English class

– I have gotten a C before, just so you know. Not like this cracked my glittering 4.0, but I’ve never gotten a bad grade in an ENGLISH class. This happened just after I signed with my agent. Besides being a full-time student with a job, I put all my energy to furiously working on my novel revisions. (Screw Jane Austen! I’m going to BE Jane Austen!) My professor was a smart dude who typically wrote on my papers, “Nice voice, nice concept, but very undeveloped–needs a few more drafts.” I know why it happened, but still. That C was a slap.

Missing out on signing a book

I had another goal this year, namely, to find a book I could champion and publish. And wouldn’t you know, I did find it. I pitched it to our editorial team. Everyone liked it. My boss told me, “Since you discovered this one, you can take the helm, negotiating with her agent and signing the deal.” I loved the author, loved the story, was so excited to mark it as the very first title on my own list, and then . . . the deal didn’t go through. Such is publishing. Sometimes things don’t work out for reasons that have nothing to do with enthusiasm or talent. But it was still a little crushing and still made me wonder, “Was I the doomed factor?”

3 Good Pieces of Advice (or Things I Learned)

“You don’t need to know the future to enjoy today.”

– Picture an office, where I’m handed a warm plastic cup of Dr. Pepper. An old guy with a bow tie telling me sometimes we can feel out of whack when we’re going through something hard. And me saying, “But there’s nothing!” and him saying, “Well you’re graduating soon. Do you know what you want to do? The next step can be scary.” And then, after acknowledging said in inner-terror with a sense of wonderment, he said, “Put seven pennies in your left pocket. Move them all by the end of the day, and for each penny, tell yourself, ‘I don’t have to know the future to enjoy today.'”

“I think you need a plane ticket.”

– My dad is the sort of parent who has instincts about his children. If you’re in trouble, he’ll feel it in his gut, like an intuiting wizard. And one night, driving through the winding roads of a canyon as it snowed in early spring, he said, “I’ve been thinking about you, and I think you need a plane ticket.” “A plane ticket to where?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “Wherever you’re going.”

“Get out of that.”

– One of my creative writing professors was also the Utah poet laureate, and he graciously let me work on my own novels instead of specific class assignments. I was still ghost-writing then, and told him the specifics of that job. “I’ve never heard of anything like that,” he said. “You should get out of it.” To which I replied, “Yeah, but, I still need a job. Better this than scrubbing toilets.”

“Maybe,” he said. “But scrubbing toilets doesn’t drain you creatively. Sometimes we have to find a balance of what we love and what we need, and what we can do to give ourselves the ideal space and time to do what we love.” And shortly after, I quit.

5 Best Books I Read

(Not necessarily my favorite books, and not necessarily published in 2014, just the ones that impacted me the most this year)

Traveling Mercies – Anne Lamott

Essays on spirituality. Lamott is so funny and raw and real. I picked this up because BIRD BY BIRD is one of my favorite writing books, and it was worth it. Maybe it helped that I read it almost entirely on the bow of a sailboat.

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

– Beautiful illustrations. Haunting story. I may or may not have cried at a particular paragraph, which wasn’t even a sad part, but sometimes in a book, you read a line and think, “Yes, yes, that’s just how it is.”

Winner’s Trilogy and Grisha Trilogy

– I read so much YA this year, but these are two fantasy series I feel pretty confident recommending (they were fun and adventurous and not cursed with a love-triangle). 

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

– Technically a murder mystery, but it was so funny too. Charming and intriguing. The perfect “enjoyment” book

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear

– This is a children’s picture book, and I read it on the couch of a dear friend who showed it to me, and I was trying not to react too obviously, except to say, “Oh it’s lovely!” But it was more than lovely. It felt deeply personal and moving and pricked my dry, shriveled tear ducts.

Sometimes, Running Away Works

Rebecca Solnit, in her book The Faraway Nearby, said:

“The bigness of the world is redemption. Despair compresses you into a small space, and a depression is literally a hollow in the ground. To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest.”

I’m currently a nomad, traveling around, and I give this introduction only because people tend to ask me, “But what are you doing out there? Why did you go?”

“Nothing. I wanted to.”

I’m terrible at taking pictures. But I’m very good at remembering things. So here goes—first up Boston!

Here are some lovely things about Boston:

1) Louisa May Alcott’s house (Little Women!), an assortment of pens on dead authors graves, and Walden Pond. Even better than the pond itself, was walking the entire perimeter chatting about book contracts with two people who totally knew what they were talking about. And even better than that was the ice cream we got after—which was so rich I didn’t even finish it, but it stayed in my soul.

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Walden's Pond

Walden’s Pond, also Awesome Boston Friend

2) Seeing The Lion King musical for the first time and getting the chance to see Finding Neverland before it premieres on Broadway in March. I WEPT. (And even better? The kind of friend who doesn’t bat an eye seeing two musicals in a row.)

3) The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I just. I can’t even. Isabella Stewart Gardner traveled the world and amassed a remarkable collection of art. In 1903, she completed the construction of a personalized museum to house her collection. Everything is arranged in such a loving, deliberate way, and there’s a mix of paintings, furniture, textiles, and objects from different cultures and periods among well-known European paintings and sculpture. It’s beautiful, and Isabella is one of the coolest ladies in history.

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4) Walking all around Boston. I saw the balcony where they first read the Declaration of Independence, saw the “Make Way for Ducklings” duck statues in Arlington Park, read my book in the stunning Boston Public Library courtyard, watched sailboats on the river, and climbed aboard the U.S.S. Constitution. (Even better: going to the children’s section of the museum and pretending to be a sailor and playing all the games.)

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5) Having a wonderful friend who will not only act as a tour guide and let you use her discount at the bookstore, but who will talk about books and writing and publishing and musicals and all sorts of odd topics in between for four days straight and never feel like we’ve ran out of things to say. Not to mention, when your friend is a bookseller, you will leave with new books you’ve been dying to read in your bag, and you’ve also been introduced to lovely books you didn’t know existed. (Virginia Wolf, the picture book! Bloody Jack!)

6) Nothing is Ever Not Wonderful.

Just kidding. I caught a mega cold right when I got there and spent a literary party huddled in a blanket, hacking on the floor while I watched Netflix.

But otherwise, yes. Everything was perfect. (;

Next stop, Canada!

I Hate Exercise

To put it kindly, most writers tend to be of the pasty and pudgy variety, if not distinctly overweight, then at least soft to the touch. We spend a lot of time in front of a screen and are fueled by a combination of caffeine and a short list of specific “nutrients” that we probably buy in bulk and eat with 9-hour stretches of no-eating in between. To an outsider, it’s a quiet work. If you have the energy to lift a cup of coffee, then you can write a novel.

But we all know that even if your body is not hopping around doing jumping jacks, there’s a grueling, demanding labor going on inside you. Writers use their entire being to think. To quote Haruki Murakami: “The whole process—sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track—requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine.”

In short, my brain is an Olympic Warrior. On the inside, I’m a raging warrior goddess who bows to no one.

But on the outside . . .

Last spring I traveled to the UK and hiked my way from Scotland to London over two months. I loved it, and except for one strenuous adventure on Scafell Pike, it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. Walking, I loved—and also scenic English countryside. Then I got home, and suddenly my world was consumed by school and work.

Work means: writing (of many varieties), editing (also of many varieties), ghost-writing, reading so many manuscripts. School means: reading and writing. Free-time: reading and watching all five seasons of Parks and Rec so my brain can decompress. If reading burned calories, I’d look like Heidi Klum.

I’m not saying I spend every minute in front of a computer. I do stuff (I do!). But the ratio of computer-sitting to movement is significantly disproportionate. I started doing yoga because I was worried that after ten years of sitting hunched over a laptop, I was going to look like this:

hunchback

And I enjoy it immensely; it makes me feel better, even though I’m possibly the most inflexible person alive. But basically—how I do it—it’s an hour of glorified stretching. Me and my back need the stretching—and the inversions and deep breathing. But there’s no cardio. It’s good for you, but does not require a lot of physical exertion. My body was starting to take on what the Oatmeal calls “computer shape”:

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So.

What to do?

I decided recently on running, for a number of good reasons.

1) You can do it for free. We all know what would really happen if I forked out $50 a month for a gym membership. That would be two very expensive sauna trips per month.

2) It’s outside. So . . . sun (ew), and fresh air.

3) Alone. ‘Nuff said.

4) Remember my Olympic-sized brain? Being alone with my thoughts for an hour is not only not boring and not difficult, it’s also probably necessary so my head doesn’t explode. I do this anyway, when I walk, but now I will just . . . go faster.

5) I can eat more carbs.

Once I decided to do this, I spent more time reading memoirs about running than actually running. I thought about running a lot. And then finally, eventually, there was nothing to do but go. People run all the time around Provo, they’re basically part of the scenery, so I wasn’t self-conscious. I figured I’d go for roughly half an hour. That was a good beginner’s start right? Besides, I’m not a completely non-athletic person. I hiked the UK. I played basketball and tennis in high school. I ride my bike and walk most places I need to go. I’m not a total newbie to exercise.

After half a mile, half a mile, my face was flushed into my ears and as I slowed to an unsteady walk, I thought seriously that I might pass out on the side of the road. I’ll just walk for a minute, I thought. Five minutes later, I tried again, with same results, only it happened faster, less than a quarter mile this time. The running app on my iPod asked, “Do you want to post your time to Facebook?” Um, no. Actually, I thought I should probably turn around soon so that I wouldn’t need an EMT stretcher to take me home.

Me:

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On one of my multiple breath-catching moments, this shirtless guy passed me (going uphill!!), and he didn’t even look like he was breaking a sweat, mouth closed and serene. Maybe slight dampness at the temples. I thought: You are an alien or you are lying.

In fact, everyone who says they love running is a liar.

This is the only explanation.

Because it suuuuucks. When I finally got home, I was thinking, is this what running is going to feel like every time? Is each run going to mean confronting this pain, shame, and rage? Why do people do this?

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I mean, to be fair, I know this was the first time. I will probably give running a few more chances before kicking it to the curb. Actually, even if it sucks indefinitely, I will most likely still do it because computer shape is worse than the agonizing torment of jogging (maybe).

But do any of my readers run? Is there a way to make it less torturous? ANY TIPS? Or is this going to be a necessary evil in my life no matter what I do?