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UGH HOW CUTE IS MY NEW PLANNER

In addition to focusing on LUSH as my word of the year and continuing my work with Sarah on our album, I am also setting a few tangible personal goals. Most of my resolutions this year are measurable, longer-term versions of some of the habits I am already tracking. Having a specific, larger goal in mind is useful for days when I’m like, “Hmm…maybe I just watch another episode…”

So here are some things I’m going to keep doing and the in-about-a-year goal that goes with them.

Read 150 books – Given that I almost read this many books in 2021, I feel like this is a gentle reach. It’s still challenging but perfectly attainable, even when my schedule stays busy. In addition to reading for book clubs, I’m participating in Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge because I particularly like the prompts for 2022. Girlxoxo’s Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge looks interesting, too (and some of the books I’m reading in January already fit).

Write 5 short stories – My first instinct was “write a short story every month!” but since I finished a whole two stories in 2021, that high of an expectation might sabotage me before I even get started. Specifically, I want to practice writing dialogue. Fishbowl rewrites have been dry lately, and I think this will help me practice my skills for that long-term project as well.

Finish expanded rough drafts of Feast and Epic Meal Planning – My 31 Days series in October 2021 about books was challenging but also exciting. I forgot how much I enjoy writing essays. Over the past few years, I have started drafting two different essay collections (some of you may remember the epic meal planning series), and I want to finish the expanded drafts this year. I’ve already kinda planned the menu for the celebratory gatherings when each one is complete. Because priorities.

Earn $7500 with copywriting job – Last year, I set a word count goal for this job to write more articles. But what’s better than more work? More money. I’ve stayed within the $6500-$7000 range the last few years, but I want to give it a little boost in 2022. Depending on what is available on my teams, this can either mean adding an article or two to each pay period or focusing on articles that pay more per word. My preference heavily leans to the latter, so this will be my focus whenever such things are in my control. Is this what they mean by working smarter, not harder?

Build a consistent practice of an average of 30 minutes/day of movement – I have added activity to my life this past year, but the draw to sit for long spells is strong. As I continue to get older, I want to make sure I don’t lapse into a sedentary state and lose more agility/balance/etc, than necessary. So I want to be more intentional about making sure I keep and expand good habits. Also, some performances this year may include a little dancey action, so I want to be ready for that.

This is a solid list to start with. I’m sure I’ll amend them as needed, but I feel pretty good about these goals.

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This was not a Christmas Eve 2020 fire. I was definitely fantasizing about throwing parts of 2020 into a fire, though.

Today’s December Reflections prompt is “one year ago today.” On this specific day, I was likely driving to the farm to spend time with the family. The vaccine wasn’t a thing yet, so I was still in general isolation – working from home, social distancing, endless Zoom meetings – and even more so in the week or two prior to seeing my parents. But in anticipation of the new year, I was also already starting my reflections on joy. I talked about comfort food and books and animals and the parts of being outside that I find least objectionable.

Throughout the month, I also wrote quite a bit about the difficulty of holding on to joy (and hope and other good things that we’re often told we’re supposed to feel, particularly around the holidays). I remember not being excited about joy being my word for the new year. There were too many moments it seemed too far-fetched to be a possibility. I felt particularly lonely last year at this time.

But there were already little sprouts of joy poking up through the soil. If you’ll indulge the navel-gazing (and you’re reading my blog, where that phenomenon often runs rampant, so I trust that you will):

“When I think of the characteristics I particularly love in a partner – and especially when I meet someone new who embodies a lot of those characteristics – there is that jolt. The familiar memory of loving someone combined with the anticipation of the possibility of feeling that way again? That feeling is pure magic. This is the sneaky good thing about joy that may just be my favorite part. It doesn’t just show up in the middle of a particular difficulty. It shows up, in part, specifically because of it. Joy will tailor itself to you.”

And that’s precisely what joy did all year long. Several things about the past year have not been easy or great, and a big part of how I handled them had to do with where the joy showed up. It’s become a bit of a navigator, and I really like that.

I wonder where it will lead next.

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“You know what made The Girl on the Train happen? Book clubs.” Damn right, we did. (From Emily Henry’s Beach Read)

This month has been a lot of fun for me. I hope you have enjoyed the series. I hope you have been able to relate to a few of the things I’ve said and that you are inspired to find the perfect book club for you. Whether you enjoy reading audiobooks in your car, thumbing through ebooks in the line at the market, or cuddling up with a cup of tea and a novel in your favorite chair, I can’t wait for you to find the next book that makes you come alive.

As seasons change, I notice that I look for books that have elements of wonder and magic. It fits right into my own rhythms that our theme for November’s meeting at the library is magical realism. I think I’ll be picking up Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and other similar books that people who know my reading style best have recommended. As the days darken, I long for things that feed my imagination, and I think it’s clear from this month’s posts that few things do that as quickly and thoroughly as a well-written book.

I am currently five books away from meeting my yearly goal, so as we get ready to head into another new year, I’m going to be thinking about whether keeping up this momentum is feasible or if I keep the same goal again just to show myself it’s not a fluke.

Let me know if you read any of the recommendations that I made this month, and tell me what you thought of them!

I’m not great at goodbyes, so it’s fortunate that I have no intention of ending my chatter about the books that I am reading and loving any time in the near future. I’ll just see you later this week when I post my November TBR list and my five favorite things I read in October.

In the meantime, happy reading, friends!

Click here to see the whole series list.

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I’m finishing up a week off from my job at UNT. I used the week as intended for the most part. I got some things done around the apartment that I had been neglecting, worked a few extra hours than usual on my writing job, and got to do some things (long weekend at the farm, long lunch with a friend, late night listening to live music) that I don’t usually get to do. It was busy but manageable. I was able to take care of both my life and myself. I actually slept well and drank enough water and ate well-planned meals.

The only thing I wanted to do that I ended up not doing was driving to San Antonio to visit Nowhere Bookshop in person. I could have done it – I technically had the time and the money. I could have spent a few hours in the hotel working on articles and been frugal with my spending so that next month’s budget wouldn’t be strained.

The only problem with that is that I don’t have frugal feelings about bookshops.

I love the way they smell. While it varies a bit depending on whether I’m walking into a used bookstore like Booked Up or a store that sells only new books, that underlying scent of ink and paper is always there. I am generally an impatient, get-in-and-get-out shopper in most places, but I can completely lose track of time in a bookstore. If I have someplace else to be that day, I actually have to set an alarm because otherwise hours sail by unnoticed. I always assume I’m going to spend at least $50 with each trip, and that’s if I’m very careful.

My favorite places are the ones with cushy armchairs and coffee shops inside. They invite patrons to stick around and thumb through what they find. It would be easy to be stingy – to have a strict buy-before-you-try policy. But bookshops that are owned by people who love books are designed to give everyone who walks through the door the opportunity to do the same. They want you to take all the time you need to find a book you adore. They would rather risk you walking out empty-handed than end up with something that sullies your reading experience. They have faith that if you find what you’re looking for, you’ll be back time and time again when you seek your next literary loves.

I have a list of bookshops I want to visit. Nowhere is at the top, but the list also includes:

I’m happy to add your favorite shop to my list, so feel free to drop a link in the comments. Even better – go give them some love yourself. I know Amazon is easy, and I don’t begrudge anyone taking extra work out of their busy lives. But if all of us committed book lovers could manage to spend in an independent shop at least once a month, it could really make a difference. It could keep the places I love alive.

I’ve talked about books all month, and it’s been so much fun.

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I am skeptical about self-help books. I want to know the author’s credentials (formal or experiential) before I commit to taking what they have to say seriously. But credentials are not enough. If, at any point, I get the sense that the author is trying too hard to make a point or wrap something up in a neat, little trite bow, it’s hard for them to get my attention back. I will DNF* a book meant to advise or inspire me faster than any other type of book if I am the least bit dissatisfied with it. Or worse, I will finish it out of spite just so I can rant about how bad it is on the internet.

Sloppy advice books are the Twilight saga of nonfiction.

But when the writers get it right, these books become some of my favorites. I 5-star them on Goodreads, give them away as gifts, and recommend them with reckless abandon. Here are the first five that come to mind.

  1. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes – I didn’t expect to like this one as much as I did. I thought it would be a fun weekend read from the person who writes some of my favorite TV dialogue. But I hadn’t even finished the first chapter before I was reaching for my notes journal and scribbling down all the lessons I was learning. If you feel stuck and suspect it may be nerves or fear holding you back, this is just the kick in the pants you need.
  2. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp – Speaking of kick in the pants, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read to get out of creative slump. Tharp’s main art is dance, but the principles in this book can easily be applied to any creative pursuit. Highly recommend to artists of any kind.
  3. Burnout by Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski – In all my therapy sessions, not once have I ever been taught how to complete a biological stress cycle. Or – that’s not completely true. I have been given good advice on things I can do to relieve stress, but this book breaks down why it works and what to do when it doesn’t. Reading this book cut the occurrence of my panic attacks in half because I learned how to identify the signs that lead up to them so I can head some of them off at the pass. Eternally grateful.
  4. Quiet by Susan Cain – I apparently have not marked this one as read or rated it on Goodreads, but I have pages and pages of notes on it. Before reading this book, I knew in my head that there was nothing wrong with being an introvert, but Cain’s social commentary showed me that it’s not just not-wrong. It’s a superpower. This is a very gratifying and encouraging read.
  5. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – Ok, hear me out. This book is not just about having an organized home. I mean, it is, and it will absolutely help you do that. But it also reminded me not only of the importance of surrounding myself with beauty and joy but also just how easy that is to do.

Honorable mention goes to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and Professional Troublemaker by Luvvie Ajayi Jones. Both of these books remind me to stay focused and give practical advice for doing so. Also, if Luvvie doesn’t make you cackle out loud, your sense of humor is broken.

What books inspire you?

I’m writing about my favorite books this month.

*DNF = Did not finish

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Tabbed for discussion

For years I had seen signs around town for Spiderweb Salon shows. I may have even stumbled into a few of them. They were odd and subversive and breathtaking and challenging and magical and haunting and angry and hopeful.

In a word, perfect. Exactly what art is meant to be.

True to my observer persona, I watched and admired from afar, happy to get a once-in-a-while glimpse of this lovely art collective. Sometimes I considered introducing myself, but I held back. After all, I already had two thriving online writers groups and a group of writer friends I met sporadically with in person. I kept in touch with writing/artist friends from fandom and other spaces through Facebook groups and blogging. And while I was an active member of my church choir, I hadn’t really performed or played piano or danced in so long that I was sure I would never find time to practice enough again to pursue it for real.

Then in January 2019, Sarah invited me to the first meeting of Follow the Reader, Spiderweb’s new book club. We had a main book selection and a supplemental read. Sphinx, written by Anne Garréta, was the centerpiece, and it was unlike anything I’d ever read before. I don’t want to give away the linguistic restraint the author used, because I really want you to read it and discover it for yourself. Garréta is a member of Oulipo (Google it if you’re a fan of rabbit holes. And welcome to freakin’ Wonderland), which is the experimental literary collective that Daniel Levin Becker writes about in Many Subtle Channels, our supplemental reading that month.

These book selections would have been enough to keep me coming back. But that’s not all I found that evening.

The people in this group talk about books, reading, and literary life the way I talk about books, reading, and literary life. We discussed the books we read, but we didn’t just muse over the content within, as if something written by a human being could ever be discussed in a vacuum, separated from its place in humanity. The conversation flowed from art to history to oppression to current events to community support and back to art.

Spiderweb had my full attention and loyalty from that first meeting.

I went home and immediately committed to being a monthly supporter of their Patreon (shameless plug – support artists!). It took me a couple of months to start making an appearance at shows, but soon I was showing up at every performance and event scheduled.

I thought I was coming to this book club to reconnect with a friend from high school in a way that guaranteed we’d at least see each other once a month. And I got that (we’re currently working on an album together!). I also found a loving and beloved community that invites me to their stage and supports me in whatever I’m working on. We’re collaborators but we’re friends first, and that fosters an inspiring space for creation of all kinds. They’re the reason I’m dancing again and considering perhaps one day even doing it on stage again (maybe).

And, of course, it all started at book club.

I’m writing about books and people who love them as much as I do this month.

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Day 27 – Memoirs

Memoirs take up about half of my nonfiction shelf. Well, memoirs and good advice (more on those on “Day 29″…later today)

I know I spent a whole post on food memoirs, which are my absolute favorite nonfiction books. But I also read/own a lot of other types of memoirs as well. I love hearing people’s stories. It’s one of the (only) things I miss about teaching public speaking. No matter what the assignment, if you give people a chance to share themselves, most of the time they will.

I like funny memoirs, family memoirs, travel memoirs, and cultural memoirs. I even like sports memoirs (particularly ones about running, it seems). A friend in my writing group once took my willingness to read just about any memoir as proof that I really will read anything. I understand her general sentiment – it feels good to read stories from people with lives and interests similar to your own – it’s comforting to know you’re not alone. But it’s also good to step outside of the inherently limited experience of one human life and learn how other people experience the world. That’s the real draw of memoir for me.

In a way, reading memoir is research (well, research-ish. Focused research is a lot more intense and intentional.). Writers are often admonished to write what we know, but even if you’ve lived the richest, fullest, most adventurous, long life, what you know firsthand is still just the information you can glean from one person’s experience. In the grand scheme of knowledge, that’s not a lot to go on. So if I’m going to write – about anything – why wouldn’t I want to know as much as possible about as many experiences and perspectives as possible? I need to hear other people’s stories to do that. For example, the main character in the novel I’m working on is dead but can see the effect his passing has on the ones he loves most. I know how I experience grief, but reading what others have gone through when a loved one died helps me understand my own characters in a way I could never get to on my own.

[Important aside – I am not a proponent of writers telling (and profiting from) other people’s stories, particularly when those people are perfectly capable of and actively telling those stories themselves (and inevitably doing a much better job of it). Even if a writer is going to write about another person who is no longer available to tell their story, they must do a hell of a lot of work and give credit (and even payment) where it’s due in order to write about them in an honorable way. Andi Cumbo-Floyd put in countless hours of piecing together genealogy records, researching local history, conducting interviews, and learning from those who write about slavery and racism before writing her young adult novels that delve into the subject, and as a result, her main character in the Steele series models this self-education process in a realistic way. Jennifer Koshatka Seman wrote Borderlands Curanderos, and her bibliography and research notes take up a solid third of the total pages of the book. That’s how you write about other people’s lives with integrity, and there’s no shortcut.]

Anyway…

A few memoirs I recommend (that I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet this month):

Do you have any favorite memoirs?

I’ve spent October writing about books.

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As I mentioned last Friday, I will read anything Louise Penny writes. I am particularly fond of the Inspector Gamache series. I didn’t even start it until my church book club decided to read the “newest one” a few years ago (I think it was maybe the 11th or the 12th book in the series). I had a few months to catch up and get to know all the characters, and it was an easier task than I bargained for. I love the characters in Three Pines. I even like the main officers in the books, and it’s hard to write a law enforcement character that I like. But after 16 (and a half) books, we seem to have come to an understanding.

I wouldn’t have sped through the series in time to get to the book we were discussing in book club if I hadn’t enjoyed the audiobooks. The original narrator, Ralph Cosham, had the most lovely voice. He died after the 10th book, though. Robert Bathurst (Sir Anthony Stallan in Downton Abbey, if such a reference is helpful to you) took over reading from there. I had grown so used to Cosham’s portrayal that I only made it through about ten minutes of the reading until I had to finish the 11th book in print. I’ve since grown accustomed to the change…but I still miss Cosham.

It may technically take more hours for me to listen to an audiobook than read the print version, but I still finish them faster. Because I can take them anywhere. Audiobooks are the multi-tasker’s dream. I listen to them in the car. I listen to them while I’m cooking or washing dishes or doing some other mindless task. I usually speed them up to 1.5x, unless it’s a memoir read by the person who wrote it. Then I feel like I’m rushing them, which seems impolite.

There is a certain faction in bookish circles that turns its nose up at audiobooks. They scoff at the idea that it could be considered reading. To them, proper reading is only done with print book in hand. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I find this needless gatekeeping absurd. Of course, listening to audiobooks is reading. Different people process information in different ways, and if you’re an auditory learner, it makes sense that audiobooks would be your reading method of choice. No matter how you absorb the words, the end effect is the same – reading.

This limited definition of reading is also ableist. There are many people for whom – for various reasons – reading a print copy is simply not an option. For many of them, audiobooks are the primary way they read. To consider it a lesser method has ugly implications.

In addition to being a convenient way to continue reading while I’m performing dull tasks, an audiobook is sometimes the only way I can read. When my anxiety is in overdrive and I cannot physically sit still, here comes an audiobook to the rescue. When there’s too much sensory information afoot for me to pay attention to a print copy, I can put in my earbuds, close my eyes, and still focus on what I’m reading. When I was overwhelmed by the combination of isolation and every single life task suddenly getting more complicated at the start of the pandemic, audiobooks were friendly voices that demanded nothing in return.

I love reading print books, but I’m a big fan of audiobooks as well.

I’m a big fan of a lot of books, and I’m talking about them all month.

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Just off camera, any time I have a Zoom meeting in my home office, there is this little cart. The top of the cart holds my art journal (and various other journals), a book I read while waiting on Zoom meetings, and several things I need to file but have yet to do so. The lower levels of the cart hold books that don’t have a place on a shelf yet because the existing shelves in my apartment where they would belong are full.

I’m in constant need of more shelves.

There was a meme that went around for a while that looked like a floor plan of a home, but instead of the usual rooms, it had a bathroom and kitchen, and the rest of it was just labeled “library.” I’m sure it was meant to be amusing but for me its wit was a funny-because-it’s-true sort of situation. I would love a house where every room had at least one wall of bookshelves. Preferably more.

A life with books is the exact kind of life I want.

I have a lot of idea about the specifics of how this could look. Do I just go ahead and line all the walls of my apartment with shelves, and take the inevitable full capacity as a sign it’s time to move? When I am eligible to retire from UNT, do I work part-time in a bookstore or library? Maybe I could work part-time in a bookstore or library now (lol but WHEN. When would I even do that)? Maybe if I finished this damn novel, I could find a publisher who loves it and wants to sell it so I can afford more time with my books (or will I just spend that time on tour or doing something gross like publicity…and is that really better than what I’m doing now?). Or is it enough that I have a few quiet evenings a month alone with the books I love now and a space to talk about them here?

I’ve been musing about the next phase of my work life for the last few years, and I still don’t have a clear picture of what exactly I want it to look like (which makes it hard to get there. How do you plot a path to a place you aren’t sure exists?). I do know one thing, though.

Wherever it is, I’m surrounded by books.

Welcome to a peek into my bookish life this month.

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I think all (most?) of these have been book club subscription picks?

Before the pandemic, I was very excited about the new bookshop opening in San Antonio to be owned by one of my favorite people on the internet, Jenny Lawson (aka, The Bloggess). A long-time subscriber to her blog, I was super pumped to get to visit Nowhere Bookshop once its doors were open.

Then everything shut down.

Instead, she and her skeleton crew of a starter staff started an online book club called Fantastic Strangelings (which, of course, I immediately joined). Every month, I pay the same price and get a new book shipped to me. There is an online discussion that I can join (or lurk through), and sometimes there are Zoom sessions with the authors. I have read about half the ones I have received, and they’ve all been great selections. Jenny Lawson can pick out a book. I trust her with all my reading needs.

You can see the list of books picked out for the club (including those sent and supplements recommended – because who can limit suggestions to one a month?) here. Like I said, I haven’t read one I didn’t like.

A few months ago, Nowhere started another book subscription/book club, the Happy Endings Book Club. The theme is romance and the requirement is that things work out in the end (you thought we were going somewhere else with a name like that, didn’t you? I mean, it is romance, so…). I have started The Charm Offensive and will probably read Not Your Average Hot Guy later this week. Quick, easy, fun reads.

These are the perfect book clubs for introverts, which makes sense, as they are run by an introvert who understands this unique quality in all its glory. Meetings are online, and you can participate or not participate as much as you want. I usually check out the discussion, but I seldom make it to the Zoom calls. Because reasons (which, as all introverts can attest, is a perfectly valid reason).

I meant to go to Nowhere in person for the first time this week while I’m off, but it didn’t quite work out. No worries. Someday, I will go to this magical place where it all began, and it will be lovely.

I’m talking about reading, reading with friends, good books, and other happy things this month.

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