These lines from Mary Oliver’s “When Death Comes” took on new meaning when I read them on the afternoon of January 17, 2019. I’d read the poem before, but time has a way of changing your perception of what you read. In this case, I was re-reading one of Oliver’s most well-known poems about mortality just hours after learning that she, my favorite poet, had died from lymphoma at the age of 83.
The timing was eerie, too. Around the same time last week, I started working on a similar tribute to my favorite author of all time, Ursula K. Le Guin, who had recently passed away. (Oliver died 5 days before the first anniversary of Le Guin’s passing.) So, naturally, I’ve been drawing comparisons between the relationships I have with their work. And I remembered one difference that might surprise some people: While Le Guin’s stories resonated with me right away, it took a few years for me – a fantasy fan and a poet in equal measure – to fall in love with Oliver’s poems.
The end of December and beginning of January is a thoughtful time of year for me. I think back on the previous year, the highlights and achievements, the setbacks and lessons learned. Then I turn to the year that’s beginning to unfold. I ask myself, “What can I accomplish by the end of the year? What do I want to do? How can I continue to embrace the projects and ideals that matter most to me?”
This year, I’m taking that goal-setting to a new level by trying a New Year’s ritual that my friend Leanne Sowul practices. Every January, she chooses a word to guide her decisions, intentions, and actions for the next 12 months. In that way, it becomes a sort of theme for her year. And knowing what I’ll be up to in the near future, I’ve chosen my own word to be my touchstone for 2019.
Before I share that word, let’s put 2018 into perspective.
If you’ve been blogging for a period of time, you’ve probably kept at it because you enjoy it. You’re passionate about your subject, have a strong desire to write about it, and find joy in communicating with like-minded people. Maybe you’ve blocked out time in your schedule for writing your posts, responding to comments, and catching up on friends’ blogs. In short, blogging has become part of your routine, and it’s impossible to imagine your life without it.
That is, until something happens in your offline life, and you have to put your blogging on hold.
In early January, I was at a local bookstore when I came across Ursula K. Le Guin’s most recent book, No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters. This collection shows Le Guin, who excelled at writing a wide range of literature (fantasy, science fiction, children’s stories, essays, poetry), exploring yet another form of writing: blogging. Yes, No Time to Spare is a collection of blog posts, in which Le Guin shares her thoughts on family, the publishing industry, society and the world at large – and, perhaps most notably, aging. And I knew, just from holding the small blue hardcover and perusing the pages within, that it would be different from any UKLG book I’d read before.
Yet there was no question in my mind that I’d buy it. Because, after all, it’s Ursula K. Le Guin, my favorite writer ever. I’ve loved everything I’ve read from her in the past, and the thought of bringing No Time to Spare home was like opening my inner circle to a new friend whom I felt I’d known forever.
How fitting that this book, where Le Guin was contemplating the final frontier of life, was the last one she published, and the last one I bought by her, before she passed away.
Last January, a friend gave me this New Year’s party hat. The timing for this sparkling “gift” couldn’t have been more appropriate: I was ready to send a YA fantasy novel to beta-readers, and 3 weeks into a crowdfunding campaign to help me afford a trip to the Iceland Writers Retreat. Not to mention I had a whole list of goals and plans for 2017, and if things worked out the way I’d hoped, maybe I’d be closer to my dream of being published by year’s end – a pretty good “best year ever.”
Today, that hat still sits in my writing space (a.k.a. my dining room table), and I’m no closer to being published than I was a year ago. But that doesn’t mean 2017 was “not the best year ever.” Rather, it turned out much differently than I thought it would.
Was it challenging? Absolutely. Discouraging? At times, yes. But it was also one of the most exciting, inspiring, and humbling years I’ve had the privilege of living.
For all those reasons, I can’t write this annual reflection post in the same way I’ve written those of past years. Instead of focusing on milestones, blog statistics, and defined plans that could change in a few months, I’d like to share what I learned this past year. How certain events sent my mental health spiraling and shook my faith and self-confidence. How other events and important choices helped me heal and made me look at life – even why I write – from a different perspective. How it all, in the end, reminded me that I’m intelligent, creative, and determined enough to rebound from setbacks. Continue reading
During a recent lunch-break walk at my day job, I almost stepped on a bird feather. It might not sound so extraordinary. After all, birds are part of the everyday outdoors. But unlike fallen leaves, clods of dirt, or patches of grass, it’s not every day that your foot comes in contact with a stray feather. So I stopped and picked it up.
Two thoughts crossed my mind then. First, the feather itself. Gosh, was it gorgeous. It was slender, slightly curved, and mostly brown with white horizontal bars that became indistinct closer to the tip. And at over 1 foot long from shaft to tip, it was also HUGE. I still haven’t identified what species it belongs to. (Someone suggested the wild turkey, and it seems to be the closest match.) But as I twirled the feather between my fingers, what bird once wore it didn’t matter. What did matter was how I felt at that moment: as if I’d found a piece of treasure.
Second, as I returned the feather to the ground, I thought about writing. For me, nature and writing have been deeply connected for a long time. In fact, they might be more so now than ever before. Continue reading
There’s a lot of discussion in the writerly blogosphere about the importance of social media, regardless of whether a writer is published. Much of the advice is valid: Social media is a great way of publicizing your work (books, blog, etc.), networking within the industry, and developing an audience. Personally, I’ve grown to appreciate Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest over the past couple years. They’ve either been instrumental with building the blog’s audience and driving more traffic, or helped me connect with other writers, bookworms, and SF&F fans. (In Twitter’s case, it’s been a blessing for both.)
So, why have I been absent from social media lately, apart from Goodreads? It’s not that I’ve given up on it. Rather, the absence began with an intention, then drew on longer for reasons I couldn’t pin down until recently, thanks to a book I’ve been reading and some recent reflection on the “energetic” toll this year has taken on me.
For many people, spring is an ideal time to catch up on cleaning (hence the term “spring cleaning”). In my case, I don’t necessarily catch up on cleaning and household chores, since I do both year-round (and, well, when I feel like it…). Rather, I’m bitten by a desire to “lighten the load,” better known as the decluttering and organizing bug.
This year, that bug struck big-time. By that, I mean that I’m still getting rid of what I no longer want or need, even though summer is near. And as a result, this extended spring-cleaning has made me consider my personal habits and what it means to feel “lighter.” It might sound like a strange topic to wax philosophical about, but when the decluttering bug sticks around as long as this one has and leaves you refreshed in the process, it really gives you a lot to think about.
Wow. Was it really two months ago when I launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for my trip to the 2017 Iceland Writers Retreat? Now, the “promotional” period is over (it ended this past Saturday), and thanks to people’s generosity I raised $2274. This falls short of the $3500 goal – but you know what? That’s still really good. It means that a dream-come-true overseas adventure and investment in my writing career is financially within reach for me. That is enough to say I’m DEFINITELY going now. 😀
To celebrate, I thought I’d offer insights on running a crowdfunding campaign. Because, well, it was one of the most intimidating things I’ve ever done – more than writing a novel! But it was also one of the most unique and rewarding learning experiences in my life. So, let me share six tips based on what I learned – some practical, and some attitudinal. Because in many ways, your mindset and definition of success might be more important than how close you come to your fundraising goal.
Happy New Year! I hope everyone enjoyed the December holidays and had a fun, safe end to 2016. 🙂
Looking back on the year, one of the words that comes to mind is “growth.” This site especially was booming. Thanks to all your shares, likes, and comments, 2016’s stats in terms of page views and visitors doubled 2015’s. And that’s despite the fact that I slowed my blogging schedule to once a week. I may be the one who writes and runs this site, but you, the readers, deserve much of the credit.
So, thank you for stopping by and coming back, for sharing your thoughts and offering feedback, for spreading the word and celebrating milestones with me. But most of all, thank you for encouraging and inspiring me. Yes. You inspire me to be not only the best writer I can be, but also my best and fullest self. And for that, I’m truly grateful.
So, let’s get to the annual year-end wrap-up, along with some quotes that reflect my feelings about 2016 and my hopes for 2017.