I’m big on using the calendar new year as a reason to invest in self-reflection, life planning, and setting goals. I don’t always reach all the goals I set, but I feel better about myself for having tried.
For a long time though, I did no such thing. Every new year was a reminder of what I had lost, the life that I was never to lead, and instead I got smashed at The Club and pretended like I didn’t care about how my life was floating by, carrying me along almost incidentally.
Most of the years I remember as milestones are for trauma — 1994 (mother died), 1996 (father died), 2008 (total breakdown), 2010 (divorce), 2012 (major illnesses/injuries). Reflecting on time past was more painful than not, usually.
But after the breakdown in 2008, I paid more attention to the marking of time, specifically to New Year’s Eve. Starting in 2011 I began the practice of spending the week before January 1st in a state of contemplative hibernation. Given that I work at a university where we get the week between Christmas and New Years off, it was a very natural habit to start. I use this time to clear the decks of the past year and make plans for the year ahead. It was inauspicious to start this tradition on the tail end of 2011 when I was just coming down with whooping cough, trying to graduate, and just a few weeks away from damaging my back to the point that I couldn’t walk for days (January 17th, 2012 — a date that lives in infamy). I know that my focus then was to get well and to graduate; in fact it was in that week that I decided to stop writing fiction in 2012 simply because I was afraid that dividing my efforts would result in not graduating with my master’s degree. It was a decision I hated to make and still feel sad about but I do NOT regret it because I think I was right. The first six months of 2012 were absolutely horrible, spent mostly in pain and on meds, and I feel so damn lucky that I did graduate that summer, omg, so fucking lucky.
Of course the upshot was that my career as Cooper West took the hit. Oh, I still sold books, but very few, and nothing new came out that year, and that decision meant that nothing new would come out in 2013 either. TWO YEAR HAITUS. You realize that this mean BBC Sherlock resurfaced before I did? :/
My “retreat” in late 2012 focused on getting things back on track and finding a job. I had graduated with my MLIS, and my goal was to establish myself professionally while also picking up the books I had put on hold. But I over shot, really — stretched myself too thin with too many projects and became frustrated by the lack of job opportunities. By the time I almost accidentally fell into a new job in October, I was exhausted and depressed. I had, somehow over the summer, finished two books and submitted them, but when it came time for me to step up this winter to help my publisher get them published, I could not even respond to emails.
What was I so down about, you might ask? I mean, by all factors of measurement, I achieved exactly what I set out to do for 2013: find a “real” job, finish two books and start two more, and kick-start my Cooper West brand. I did that.
But I was lacking any real purpose. Honestly, the goals I set for 2013 were mostly panic-stricken reactions to what I went through in 2012. It was like this: I’m tired of being poor, and sick, and tired! FIND A SALARIED JOB! PUBLISH BOOKS THAT WILL SELL! DO ALL THE THINGS!
Effective, yes, but not really inspiring.
And inspiration is important. Yes, paying the bills is important too. Yep, very important, and I like shoving that rent check in the mail knowing I have enough left to buy groceries. Nice change of pace, there, let me tell you! But that’s just survival, and at the end of the day, that’s not very fulfilling.
Basically, what happened this past fall was that I cracked under the realization that the life I had begged for in 2012 was simply not what I wanted. Oh, I like my job. Great people, important work. It’s a good job. What it’s not is personally fulfilling. This is JUST a job, you know what I mean? It’s that thing I do so I do other things.
I hate that.
Not the job, but that I have to have a job in order to do the things that matter to me, like writing. I realize in retrospect that when I set my goals for 2013 I was freaking out over money and health issues, and not looking at the big picture. So this year, preparing for 2014, I thought long and hard about what my purpose is, and placed that idea in the framework of having a theme for the year.
My theme for 2014 is self-sufficiency.
What do I mean by that? It means more than just survival-level income or “getting by.” Self-sufficiency means having enough income to live without stressing over the bills when they are due; having enough money to buy quality groceries every week; money to go out with friends a couple of times a week in order to maintain a healthy social life; money for fun things like comics, and movies, and travel; health insurance; a growing savings account (emergency, retirement, whatever); and the time to do what I love for the sake of doing it rather than shoe-horning writing and drawing and dancing into the “off moments” when I’m not “on the clock.”
I want everything I do to focus on getting my writing career to a point where it sustains me, outside of my day!job or freelance copywriting. I don’t expect I’ll be in a position to quit my job by the end of the year, but I want to move forward with the understanding that is a possibility. This is huge for me, to really invest time in making self-sufficiency happen. I have a couple of side projects that I think have great potential but I’m shelving for now, much as I shelved writing itself in 2012 in order to graduate. Would I prefer to do ALL THE THINGS? Of course, because that’s just my personality. Hello, Type-A! *waves*
But doing all the things is not in the service of my theme, self-sufficiency. There is a path open to me to make that happen, and if I keep side-tripping to do other things, then I won’t get to where I want to be which is, let me repeat myself for the sake of clarity: self-sufficiency.
So that’s me. What’s your theme for 2014? Do you have one? Or is January 1st just another day to you?