2021 Retrospective

What a year! Or, I suppose, three-quarters of a year, since I didn’t post my 2021 Prospective until April 2021!

2020 lingered into 2021, and it seems to be tagging along into 2022, as well. We are still living the pandemic lifestyle, which for me is also the pajama lifestyle, despite my best efforts at this year’s theme. As I write this, Omicron variant is surging throughout the U.S., and I have spent the last two weeks either hiding out in my house or in the woods.

So, without further ado, let’s talk about my 2021 theme“making my outsides match my insides,” i.e. my year-long focus on dressing up my meat car.

How’d I do?

Er… not so well.

I’m hesitant to call anything a failure — “I learned 100 things that didn’t work,” etc — but I was probably less invested than I have ever been in one of these themes.

And, in fairness, I knew it going in. After all, it took me three months to write my 2021 Prospective! I even talked to my therapist about the ambivalence I felt going into the year.

And as a result… I saw few results.

Time-lost gentlethem?

I still don’t look like a time-lost noblethem in my day-to-day life. I still routinely spend my days in pajamas or athleisure.

I did, however, pull together some cool outfits for parties!… of which there were few in 2021.


I did add a bunch of clothes to Stylebook — 52 tops, 16 bottoms, 4 pairs of shoes, 7 dresses, and 20 accessories!

I’m not exactly predictable about using it to record or plan my outfits, though. But! I am still using it as of this week, and that’s not nothing.

Selfiegeddon 2021?

Let the record show that — until today, when I went back and added a whole bunch of forgotten photos — I hadn’t added anything to my “Selfiegeddon 2021” album since July 2021.

However, after collation, I do have 53 photos in there, which means I actually met that goal? Hooray! Here are a few I especially liked:

Snazzual Fridays (or any days)?

A partial success. I did a few of these, but I also frequently got to the end of the month, saw the item in Todoist, and hit “postpone” — especially near the end of the year. I can’t remember which of my selfies were for Snazzual Friday, and I can’t honestly recall what the last one I participated in was.

Body image?

I haven’t gotten more comfortable with having the body of a hobbit and the aspirations of an elf. I can’t say I’ve actually cut my hair as I’d planned, still worried about looking like a chubby teenaged boy. I basically never feel like someone other people would find attractive.

Wardrobe curation?

Generally a success. I got some great new clothes from StitchFix, but I recently discontinued my scheduled fixes, only because I couldn’t fit more in my wardrobe!

I did get rid of some items that didn’t make me feel great, didn’t fit well, or didn’t fit my personal style (such as it is). I also got better about doing seasonal purges.

Health, not weight?

I can’t say I remembered this goal past April 2021! Sweeteners (artificial or otherwise) and beer still have a large role in my diet. I would definitely not say that I killed my sweet tooth or that my diet got better.

But my various health measures remained stable, and I don’t want to kill anyone for a donut, so I can’t say it was an unmitigated failure.

But what did I learn?

I learned that, more important than looking like a time-lost noblethem is… being comfortable.

I can’t even stand having an itchy tag in my clothes; how am I supposed to stand hosiery, fitted suit jackets, or jewelry that clangs against the keyboard?

I also learned: I’m not doing it for myself. I put on real clothes only a) if I’m in a meeting and I’m going to be on camera, or b) in the rare event I leave the house. If I were doing it for myself, I’d do it as part of my regular routine. But I don’t.

I want people to see me and see an eccentric time-lost noblethem. But I’m not convinced that’s something I care about seeing myself; I’m fine with the vision inside my head.

… which doesn’t exemplify “inhabiting my meat car,” does it?

Also: I still struggle to see fat as beautiful. An ad for plus-size lingerie comes up in my Facebook feed, with an actual plus-size model, and I still feel revulsion. I don’t like this, and I wish it weren’t so, but there we are.

I need more positive body role models, but I’m struggling to find them at the same time as I work to cut back on the media I consume.

But! I will say this: I got a lot of joy looking back through those selfies from the year. I do see progress towards loving what I am — towards expressing myself through fashion — even if it’s not what I could have hoped.

Now, on to what else happened this year…

A year of endings

This year, we unfortunately lost two of our cats, Brianna and Burnbright.

Brianna was 15, and passed in March, to an aggressive nasal tumor. Burnbright was 17, and passed in May. He was still recovering from brain surgery to remove a meningioma when complications from diabetes and kidney failure told us it was time to say goodbye.

It’s hard to lose one cat in a year, let alone two. Burnbright was the first cat I adopted as an adult, and has a special place in my heart. Brianna was the cat we never expected to adopt, my beautiful feisty princess who we almost lost once, in 2020.

I still miss them, and it still hurts.

One less momentous ending was the end of my Out of the Abyss campaign. You know, that thing that caused me to write 80k words of emotional hurt/comfort with my character’s NPC boyfriend? That had a big impact on me — it literally felt like the end of a relationship.

A year of new beginnings

Because having merely one cat in our house seemed untenable, Matt and I adopted three new kittens in June from the local shelter. They were ~9 weeks old when we adopted them; two of them are biological brothers, and one of them was socialized along with the other two. As soon as we saw the trio, we knew we couldn’t split them up.

Nerds that we are, we named them after characters from P.G. Wodehouse novels — Monty Bodkin, Gussie Fink-Nottle, and Pongo Twistleton.

The only thing that has made the stress of this year bearable is having these kittens around; at my most bereft, I would just take a break to pet them.

Also this year? I became a manager — my title is now Engineering Manager, Frontend, and I have a team of two reporting to me. Nothing can really prepare you for management, but I’ve been studying the theory and attempting to apply that to my work. My company has also provided a great deal of training, mentorship, and onboarding assistance in this regard.

Other interesting stuff

  • I read 16 books. I did not reach my goal of 27, but honestly pandemic brain has ruined my ability to read, and reading is a habit I have to relearn.
  • My first short story publication — “The Mirrors of Her Eyes” — appeared in Daily Science Fiction.
  • I queried 10 different agents for Lioness; had 5 requests for partial/fulls, but so far no offers of rep.
  • Did a “Words in May” challenge.
  • Wrote 35 blog posts
  • Wrote 80k+ words on Bright Future, my druid and drow-fancying retelling of the Out of the Abyss adventure.
  • Started playing Pathfinder 2e, running through the Agents of Edgewatch module with some marvelous human beans I somehow met on r/lfg.
  • Traveled to San Diego for a work retreat. I stayed at the historical and haunted Hotel del Coronado, met my coworkers for the first time, and saw my friend Skye for the first time in 15 years. Of course, I also took lots of pictures of flowers and sea life.
  • Visited my mom several times.
  • Went camping with my dad in August, in some of the worst heat of the summer!
  • Hosted a visit from Matt’s parents.
  • Started my Morrowind Remastered stream and YouTube series.
  • Spent 3 nights, 4 days in a yurt in western MA for my birthday.
  • Made 249 iNaturalist observations
  • Took a Bushcraft 101 class
  • Spent a great deal of time in my garden and in the woods.
  • Grew an elderberry from a cutting. (Let’s see if it survives the winter in the ground).
  • Foraged and ate a wild mushroom for the first time!
  • Actually got to do some larping! I played two one-day events for Cottington Woods 2, and a 1-day event for Shadowvale.

All right, friends, I think that wraps it up for 2021. Let’s lay this one to rest and grow just enough in 2022.

Featured image by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

2022 Prospective

Let’s switch things up this year — let’s write the prospective first. After all, 2021 is over on December 31st, and then I have all of 2022 to reflect; I can literally write the retrospective any time. But the sooner I announce my 2022 theme, and put it down on paper, the sooner I’ll know what I’m fully committing to.

So without further ado, 2022 will be…

The Year of “Enough.”

I’ve felt overwhelmed for a while now by all the “stuff” in my life. In my day jorb, I am an engineering manager at a startup — itself a stressful situation — and in my personal life I try to balance too many hobbies, including larping, TTRPGs, writing novels, and streaming games on Twitch.

This is a lot. A lot of commitments, and a lot of possessions. A lot of mental energy consumed tracking things, maintaining them, and disposing of them when they’re no longer useful. This is the outer and inner disorder contributing to my lack of calm.

It got both better and worse when I started treating my ADHD. I now have fewer “dunwannas,” and hard, boring things are easier to do than they used to be. But at the same time, once I was medicated, I felt like possibilities were open to me that weren’t before. And when that happened, a million ideas I wouldn’t have bothered with before crowded through the door to my attention.

It’s exhausting. Even when I relax, I can’t relax. I feel like a tireless engine that always needs to do, do, do.

My goal in 2022 is to pare down my life to the essentials.

What does this mean? I’ll give you a few watch words and strategies that I have in mind.

Cultivate boredom.

I want to be okay with doing nothing, even just for a few minutes at a time. Meditation helps, when I actually do it. But there are other ways to be bored.

Watch my kittens play.

Pet Lirazel.

Stare out the skylights.

Listen to the hum of the refrigerator.

“For every new thing you bring into your life, ask yourself: what will you give up?”

These words of wisdom came from Janessa, the director of marketing at my company and an all-around brilliant person. I would have phrased this less eloquently by saying something like “interrogate everything that comes into your life.” Or: “one thing in, one thing out.”

There’s a tricksy bit here. Many commitments aren’t explicitly brought into my life; they sneak in. Thus cultivating awareness of their arrival is a necessary first step.

For example, my Pathfinder group decided to commission art of the party. And by “decided” I mean I instigated it, and thus I’m the one who had to compile everyone’s preferences and communicate with the artist. Did I think of that before I posted “hey folks wanna get some party art done?” in our Discord?

I did not.

Was it worth the time I spent herding cats? Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see.

But I am getting better at…

Saying no.

Or at least, better at saying, “maybe,” “let me think about it,” or “let me check my calendar.”

It might be worthwhile keeping note of the things I say “no,” “yes,” or “maybe” to in a single day — maybe in my journal? What we measure, we improve, after all. For example, recently I said…

  • “No” to getting a book out of the library when I have three in progress and hundreds unread on my shelf.
  • “Yes” to playing in a new D&D campaign (that I’ve been wanting to play for a while) — and I’ve been pretty joyful about this.
  • “Maybe” to buying a Worldcon 2022 membership from someone who can no longer use it.

Likewise, I think it’s important that I reflect on what I have brought into my life, and how it’s made me feel. I bought an RPG sourcebook recently, rather expensively, which turned out to be not what I expected. I might still get value out of it, but probably not what I anticipated. How could I have prevented mistakes like this?

And when that fails…

Get rid of the stuff that no longer brings me joy

Declutter, in other words. Both physical things and intangible things like commitments. Recurring expenses. Clothes that no longer fit. Books that represent a person you no longer are, or a life you’ll never lead.

I suppose this is a little Konmari-ish, though I can’t really say I love her methods. Some of it seems very silly and woo-woo to me; I will not start my decluttering journey by thanking my house, sorrynotsorry. I’ve also looked into The Home Edit and uhhhh those ladies have way too much energy for me. I know my library has a copy of Peter Walsh’s book It’s All Too Much — I’ve read it before! Maybe it’s time to take a second look.

… goddamn it, Lise, you’re doing it again. Even if they’re library books, even if they go home after three weeks, they’re still mental clutter.

Ultimately: what a home organization system won’t tell me is what stuff no longer fits my life. That’s a path I have to walk all by myself.

In any case, I started my decluttering today — a “Begin as You Mean to Go On” strategy, as Leigh Bardugo would call it — by going through one of my bookshelves and getting rid of a number of books. Technical manuals that are so old they’re useless, books I have to be honest about never reading, etc.

In the process I discovered…

It’s harder to get rid of things than to acquire them

So now I have a box of books I don’t want sitting in my guest bedroom, right? What am I going to do with them? They’re still taking up room in my house.

I can’t find any book donation bins near me. My town library isn’t taking them right now. The nearest thrift store is a Salvation Army, which I would prefer not to donate to — and the nearest Goodwill or Savers is 40 minutes away in Worcester. The only charity that will do home pickups to my area is the Epilepsy Foundation, and currently they are only picking up clothes, bedding, and shoes.

The library in the next town over is taking some donations of books, so that is probably what I will look into. But that will require me to take some time out of my day — probably a weekday — and drive over there and potentially wait in line and who knows, they might still tell me they don’t take them.

(ETA: I learned that the dump in the next town over has a book donation box! Hooray!)

Whereas if I want to buy a new book, it’s a few clicks away, and it will show up automagically on my phone or at my doorstep.

… maybe the lesson here is “don’t save your credit card info in your browser.” I definitely would do less impulse buying if I had to go downstairs and find my credit card every time I wanted to buy something.

The decluttering burst

I learned about this from the Be More With Less blog. It’s literally “let(ting) go of one hundred things in less than an hour.” It’s even easier if you count throwing out trash.

I’ve tried it a few times, and honestly, the hardest part was counting how many things you got rid of.

But seriously, folks…

No more books.

I have SUCH a backlog. Maybe this is a good year to conquer Mount TBR. As I said elseweb…

If I really, really need to read books that aren’t on my bookshelf — like, say, for the book club at my job — I can use the public library. But as I said above… for the love of gourd, stop, Lise.

Regular connectivity detoxes.

I love ye olde W-W-W, I really do. I work as a web developer, after all! And how else could I miss half of a movie by falling down an IMDb rabbit hole?

I’ve talked before about the “attention economy” that is social media, and what a drain it can be on our lives, so I won’t say more here. But there’s another piece to this, which is the fact that we now have the entirety of human knowledge at our fingertips, on our phones. For someone like me — with ADHD — this can be the source of more “brain stuff” that we don’t need.

For example, recently I learned about 1000 Hours Outside — a challenge to spend a thousand hours outside in the next year. It’s mostly aimed at kids, but adults can play, too, and once I saw that one of the trackers was a coloring sheet, I was ready to sign up.

Noooooo, Lise. A thousand hours outside in a year is ~2.7 hours per day, and how tf would I fit that in my life? Do I just want another thing I to feel obligated to do? I already have a hard time getting outside as much as I would like; this would only make it harder. To say nothing of the mental effort of tracking that time, or figuring out what counts as “outside” time.

So, it’s important to me to get away from it all ™, where all is “a constant drip of all the world’s knowledge and more new ideas than can fit in my head.” A complicating factor is my seeming inability to just ignore the internet if it’s there; if I can be connected easily, I will be.

One solution I found: Last year I spent three nights in a yurt in western Mass the week of my birthday, and I just made a reservation to spend four nights there again this April.

I chose this place because of a very specific feature — there’s no wifi in the yurt, and cell reception in this part of MA is spotty. I left my phone locked in my car for most of the weekend, and checked in once a day with my husband, when I was up at the main house and had access to wifi.

Of course, I can’t spend four nights in a yurt all the time, so I will also need to figure out some way to get short-term detoxes, as well. Something to noodle on.

Banish perfectionism.

I’m working on it.

Time-boxing helps.

Making myself sit here and finish this post and not eat until it’s done also helps.

Speaking of…

That’s all, folks.

I’ve screamed into the void enough for now. Maybe I’ll add more later. Maybe I won’t. Now I’mma go eat dinner.

Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

2021 Prospective

Hey, this took a long time to write! It’s Q2, and here I am finally putting virtual pen to virtual paper. But rest assured, I have been trying to live this, even if I haven’t been talking about it.

My theme for the year is: “Making my outsides match my insides.” Or, put another way, “wearing my heart on my sleeve.”

What does that mean?

My mother said to me once, “You just don’t pay attention to how you look, do you?” At the time I heard it as an insult, but I’ve come to realize it’s not — it was an accurate observation of my state of mind.

See, this shows in how I treat my body — as a sort of meat car for the really important stuff, i.e. my thoughts, memories, mind, etc. What does it matter what my outsides look like?

Heck, I drive a 2007 Toyota Yaris; I don’t even care what my car-car looks like. It just gets me from one place to another.

And so with my meat car.

But I’m a materialist, so I know this is false thinking. There is not separate mind stuff and body stuff. (Take that, Descartes!) The mind is the brain is the body. (Or, at least, the mind is an epiphenomenon that can’t be directly controlled except through the bo– look, I was a cog sci major, okay??)

So, yeah, I have never paid a lot of attention to my appearance. Most days I work from home wearing pajamas; if I have a meeting, I might actually take a shower and put on a bra and real clothes. This is a lifestyle the pandemic has only encouraged — and the permanently remote job I have now does not help.

A lot of my work over the past few years — with these annual themes, in therapy — has been about being genuine, vulnerable, true to myself. About putting my “heart on my sleeve” in an emotional or mental way.

Now I want to put my heart on my sleeve in terms of my physical being — my personal style, my body image, and the stuff I’m putting out into the world.

Get ready, we’re putting a party hat on this meat car.

Or at least on this slime. (Credit: @theperkypugs on Twitter)

Personal style

I have always been envious of people who have a personal style. The sort of person who you see and think “gee, I feel like I know who they are just from looking at them.”

I am not like that, unless you consider my greasy face and a 10-year t-shirt to be an expression of my personality.

(I mean… I think my ripped “Rowsdower: Canada’s Brass Knuckles” t-shirt does have some personality to it).

I’ve put a lot of thought, last year and this, into what I WANT my personal style to be. I’ve put together a Pinterest board called “I want to be fabulous” with pictures that inspire me. I’ve also written out some bullet points that I think express my desired aesthetic well:

  • Androgyny/gender-bending
  • Historical elements
  • Baroque (in both senses) details — beautiful inutility. Lace, ruffles, silk.
  • A bit of equestrian chic, like an eccentric noblewoman riding through the fields
  • Academic
  • Nerdy things, ie my Tee Turtle shirts, TES jewelry
  • Lushness, swishiness
  • Jewel tones and blacks
  • A little bit of goth
  • Moons
  • Capital R Romanticism
  • Actually, if I could look like Orly of Buckingham1, that’s right on. Maybe with more skulls and moons.
  • Fae/elven
  1. By which I mean Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham in the 2011 The Three Musketeers. My god he’s fabulous and I’m not sure if I want to be him or I want to bang him… or, being ace, “have passionate conversations about poetic forms while brushing each other’s hair and kissing.”

I tried to boil this down to a single tagline, and what I came up with was “eccentric time-lost noblethem.”

So how does one become such a grand thing? Let’s set some intentions!

Catalog wardrobe using the Stylebook app

I downloaded Stylebook a couple of months ago, and while I’m not making full use of it yet, I already love it. It’s inexpensive (a one-time $3.99), and has a ton of functionality, as well as robust documentation to help you learn how to use it. Once you have a full wardrobe to work with, you can ask it to “shuffle” items and suggest outfits.

Basically, it helps you get the most out of the wardrobe you have.

However, it does operate on having all your wardrobe items entered in, and that is a challenge I’ve only just begun.

I think a modest goal here would be to add five items to Stylebook per week. That’s one for every week day. I assume I will be wearing more than one garment per day, and that I will wear real clothes at least one or two days a week.

Participate in Snazzual Fridays

This is a hashtag/event my friend Tegan created at the start of the pandemic last year, to get us out of the rut of the permanent athleisure lifestyle and to put on clothes that might not otherwise get worn. I’ve done this a couple of times, but mostly my snazzual days don’t fall on Fridays. That’s okay — any day can be snazzual if you feel it in your heart.

So my modest goal here is to Be snazzual 1-2 times per month, and document it. (More on that latter part below).

Continue to define my personal style, and expand (or purge) my wardrobe appropriately

As with all “stuff,” acquiring clothes is infinitely easier than getting rid of them.

My most recent influx of clothes has been a) giant bag of shirts and leggings I got from someone on my Buy Nothing group, and b) Stitchfix.

I’ve been surprised how many new-to-me pieces came out of the giant bag o’ clothes — there’s a lot of “tunic tops and leggings,” which is my go-to day-to-day style when I actually put on clothes. (It also ties in well with my “lushness” and “swishiness” elements — and I generally think the “long over lean” look is a good one for me).

Stitchfix has also been positive, but it’s also expensive, and I want to avoid getting more clothes than I will wear or have room to store. I’ll continue to use Stitchfix, but I’m still figuring out the right frequency.

I also want to expand my personal style pinboard and use it to extend the possibilities of my wardrobe.

Finally, I want to make a habit of reorganizing my closet seasonally, to rotate in seasonal items and get rid of stuff I haven’t worn in the past X amount of time.

Body image

One thing I run into pretty quickly when thinking about personal style is… the mirror.

I want to look like an elf, and I have the body of a hobbit.

I am not tall and thin and angular and androgynous. I am short and fat and squishy.

I’m not okay with this. I’ve never been okay with this.

And yet… this body is here to stay. It’s the only meat car I’ve got. I’m not getting any taller, my fat is always going to be distributed this way, and whenever I’ve intentionally tried to lose weight, it hasn’t been terribly effective.

In the vein of “accepting the things you cannot change,” here’s what I’m going to do to improve my body image in 2021.

Take more selfies

Selfies aren’t just vanity — they play an important role in accepting our body by curating how we present it to the world. If we can repeatedly see ourselves at our best, maybe it becomes easier to say “ew I’m ugly and fat and my hair is too thin” every time I look in the mirror

I’ve already created a “Selfiegeddon 2021” album on Facebook; I intend to add 50 selfies to it by the end of the year. (We’ll see if that’s unique shots or total — I’m willing to bend the rules depending on how I’m doing).

In that spirit, here’s MAH FACE.

Focus on health, not weight

Do I want to weigh less? Yes — if nothing else, I want a more proportional body, so that clothes fit me better.

Do I want to focus on losing weight? Hell nah.

My solution to this is to focus on activities that are healthier — and be surprised by weight loss that may happen.

For example, since the beginning of this year I’ve been trying to eradicate my sweet tooth. Not just sucrose, either — I make ample use of artificial sweetener. But I feel like all that does is keep those cravings alive and make me hungrier in the long run.

When I get to the point where I would sell my soul for a Boston creme donut is usually where I say, “okay, it’s time to lay off the sweets.” After about two weeks without, I crave sweets a lot less and my hunger levels are less spiky.

So, in that vein, my “healthy not weighty” goals:

  • Moderate my relationship with sweets, as specified above.
  • Continue exercise in a gentle, non-competitive way.
  • Eat more veggies. “More” is vague, I know. For one thing, more than three mini peppers with my usual lunch of meat and cheese 😉
  • Eat breakfast. I don’t do this enough, because usually when I wake up the last thing I want is food. But it keeps my hunger at reasonable levels throughout the day.

Find better role models in body image

I want to look like an elf — but who says elves have to be tall and thin?

Tolkien, probably, but let’s not forget he was drawing from the poetic Eddas. And if you go back far enough in Nordic/Germanic myth, elves and dwarves are the same. (Alberich, who appears in the Ring cycle, is variously described as an elf or a dwarf, I seem to recall).

… and if there’s anything playing D&D taught me about dwarves, it’s that you can hear the clap of their ass cheeks through Mithril Hall.

So, uh, I guess what I’m saying is, I not only need to put my own image out into the world — I need to find images that represent what I am looking for and are relatable and achievable. I also want to stop having a viscerally different reaction to images of thin vs. fat people.

Earlier this year I followed some plus-size alt-fashion Instagrammers. But I’m not a heavy Insta user, so I can’t say this has done anything for me. I also try to skew my pinboard towards plus-size fashion icons, too, but lemme just say all your results change for the worse when you add “plus size” to any query on Pinterest.

So I need to do some noodling on this point. But bottom line, I want to merge “people who look like me,” “people who are being their authentic selves through fashion,” and “people who look fabulous.”

All right? All right. I think that’s enough to keep me busy for a year. Now back to my paint-stained pajamas for the night.