This morning I woke up late, was finally coaxed out of bed, and returned to my cats with tea to spend the next couple hours reading a book without any particular urgency or guilt that I really ought to have been doing something else. While this was the first day in several I was able to spend in this excellent fashion, it was possible, which is a remarkable indicator of my success this year: to be able to be happy being.
Strap in, friends; this is a long one.
In past years, my annual year-in-reflection birthday post (yes, I know it’s December, life happens and I’m not fretting about it) has often been a way of discovering for myself the pattern of my efforts and accomplishments. This year, I knew ages ago what I’d be writing about, which is this:
After an incredibly rough year culminating in a deeply upsetting outcome, this year I decided I needed to adjust my course. I’ve been pushing as hard as I could for years, learning how to prioritize writing for myself, how far I can push myself.
And I crashed and burned out, hard.
Because what I hadn’t established for myself was stability. I didn’t have a job I could foresee myself still working at happily, or sufficiently lucratively, five years down the road if a publishing contract never comes about. I could prioritize writing, but I’d also learned to de-prioritize myself. Financially, emotionally, logistically—I needed to shift my goals for myself to be less dependent on what is ultimately outside of my control.
I made myself take a step back, which was a feat in and of itself. I thought about what kind of life I want, and I worked on building some structures into it and slowly settling into them.
Stories are absolutely part of the life I want, will always be, but taking a step back in terms of writing means that I only fully wrote and edited one novel and one novella this year. That only had me feeling unproductive, even though there are countless professional writers who don’t manage a single book in a year—or perhaps insufficiently ambitious, because I can do another full novel plus revisions on top of that in a year if I choose to. This year I deliberately did not.
And I’m proud of the work I did. I got to work on some secret projects I’m excited about. I love my weird shounen anime-style but with women (tournaments! friendship! magic swords!) novella. Tea Set and Match is the first sequel I’ve ever written, which was its own education and journey, and I’m happy with where I landed. Tea Princess Chronicles resonates more strongly with people than I ever imagined, and readers’ responses to it have heartened me in turn. (I am still not quite over the shock that people want to give me money for my fiction, particularly fiction I give away for free. It flabbergasts me every time.)
(As an aside, if you want to support artists: tell other people about their work, buy their work, and tell the artist their work mattered to you. Those three things get us through.)
Stories are also now part of how I make my living, which has long been a goal, and now it’s taking another form. I’m going to keep writing, and I’m also now a professional indie bookseller, which combines a lot of my project management skills as well as a long history of shouting at people about which books they should buy!
On another axis, bookselling has given me an avenue to build a form of activism into my daily habits, working on change on a local scale. I don’t have the time or money for many other forms of activism that matter, but engaging day by day and face-to-face within my community is something I’m prepared and satisfied to be practicing. I look forward to taking that even farther as I grow into this work.
Working at a bookstore has been a dream of mine for years, and now it’s work not instead of but in addition to writing that I actually care about and can sustain me. That’s huge.
Adventure and friendship are also hugely important to the person I want to be. This year I ventured off to Tibet with a friend, a trip I haven’t written about much because it’s difficult to convey how surreal it was. It truly was an adventure, in both the positive and negative connotations that word can imply—in the sounds and silences, in the visible history, in how we use and are used by our bodies. But it was also an exercise in traveling in a way that still felt like an adventure without going at a pace that made me unhappy, with support in place to address the unexpected—and friendship that is uplifting rather than pressuring.
And after what seems like forever of living where I do, I finally begin to feel like I have a core of close friends. The kind who go out for ice cream when you’re bored or sad or just very enthusiastic about ice cream, answer calls at weird hours and talk about everything, and share otter pictures and watch ridiculous movies; the kind who are there for the fun and the hard.
I also got engaged, which is its own kind of adventure! There’s the adventure of wedding planning, of course, but I really mean the adventure of deciding you want to build a life with another person and actively setting about entwining your lives together structurally, in figuring out the life you envision for yourselves and working to make it reality. This was a step a long time coming, and I am glad to have finally made the choice to go down this path.
I also turned 30, which seems like it ought to have been a bigger deal than it was. I went out of my way to make sure I celebrated thoroughly, but I think the most notable thing about embarking on a new decade is that I don’t feel any stress about it.
I had a great year.
I expect even better to come.
And I’m going to go and make that happen for myself.
For those keeping track of my flying adventures, this year I flew on a hot air balloon, accompanied by my fiancée. A less dangerous flight for me than some—given, in succession, skydiving, flying trapeze, indoor skydiving, ziplining in Thailand, and paragliding (…okay now that I’ve located 5 years’s worth of posts on this website I do feel a little old)—but one I could share with the most important person in my life.
I’m not giving up on flying adventures, but for my 30s I’ve decided to change the annual adventure requirements:
Every year, I want to go somewhere new.
And I started that this year, too: with Tibet, and again on the actual day of my birthday with a tea party to visit friends in Victoria. Sustainable adventure and connections, in concept and action.
So I’m still busy and sometimes overwhelmed. I always will be, because I am too ambitious to ever truly rest, and I will never, ever stop pushing myself to be more. But I’m learning to adjust my goals and expectations, plans and efforts accordingly.
I’m learning to have the life full of stories, adventure, impact, and connection that I want—sustainably, all at once, because I am also too ambitious to settle for less.
Ready for a new year and decade an adventures,