2020 Retrospective

What. A. Year. After the past 12 months, I would like to go back to living in precedented times, thank you very much.

But hey, a long time ago in a galaxy far away — when COVID-19 was just a whisper on the wind — I wrote a 2020 prospective, where I set the theme of “green witch.” As I do every year at this time, I’d like to reflect on how that theme played out over the course of the year.

Staying in touch with the natural world

Despite its awfulness — despite a pandemic and losing my job — something beautiful came out of the year for me. When my time-intensive social hobbies (like larping) disappeared overnight, I had much more time and energy to devote to the natural world.

This year, I made ~700 observations on iNaturalist. I learned to identify many new taxa — mostly plants, but I also started getting into mushroom identification and mycology. I foraged wild foods, and made things out of them. I discovered new conservation areas and hiking trails. I laid on the ground by a vernal pool for nearly an hour, observing fairy shrimp. I did several “socially distant” hikes with friends, teaching them what I knew about the natural world.

For once in my life, I saw the turn of the seasons, day by day and week to week.

To my points from the original post:

Planting a garden. I did this, to varying degrees of success; I tried to grow tomatoes, bell and jalapeno peppers, parsnips, and lettuce from seed. I had my hands in the earth; I tilled the soil; I watered my plants; I repelled woodchucks and blossom end rot.

The final product was meager — a bumper crop of tomatoes, a few peppers, and not much else — but the experience was worthwhile. Caring for plants was something that took me outside nearly every day, even when I didn’t have the time or inclination to dive into the deep woods.

Foraging wild foods. I did this, too! We discovered the brambles growing as volunteers in our backyard were in fact blackberries, and Matt harvested them and made a delicious blackberry ice cream from it. I also made zucchini bread with autumn olive I had harvested from a local tree. (And learned, in the process, that autumn olive really should be pitted before doing so).

Sadly I did not find a great source of elderberries this year — I saw a few plants, but not close to me or in a place I’d feel confident with harvesting.

Taking a nature walk once a month. Sort of? I was out in the woods a LOT this year, and it probably averaged out to once a month. But most of it was in the spring and early summer, my favorite seasons for natural observation. I don’t think I got out in the woods at all in July, and December was also a wash for me.

But I also logged more iNat observations this year than I had in previous years combined, and I participated in a two virtual bioblitzes, so I really don’t feel like I “failed” here.

Also it’s important to remember that one doesn’t need to “get out” in nature. Wildness is everywhere! I found new-to-me plants like bush honeysuckle and broad-leafed helleborine and European beech while out on my runs. I got up close with a garter snake basking on the tarmac of my road. And I just now returned from a walk down my street where I saw a red fox cross the road in front of me.

Honoring the cycle of the year

My first thought is: I would have liked to spend more time on this, on slowing the passage of time through observing it, turning regular time into a festival heterotopia. I especially wanted to honor the solstices and equinoxes, those turning points of the year — but I never quite managed to make it happen.

But I’m thankful for what I did do. I observed my usual traditions around traditional Western holidays — Muppet Christmas Carol at Christmas, Vincent Price movies at Halloween. In celebration of finishing another (final!) round of Lioness edits, I hosted watch parties of several Three Musketeers movies. I bought holiday and birthday presents, and took pleasure in selecting the right gifts.

Plus, one thing observing the natural world regularly did is help me see the passage of time. I watched maple buds turn into leaves turn into forest litter, and that taught me much. I saw the mycelium underlying the whole forest floor, and learned you cannot kill me in a way that matters.

(Description: screenshot of a Tumblr post, reading:
Me holding a gun to a mushroom: tell me the name of god you fungal piece of shit
Mushroom: can you feel your heart burning? can you feel the struggle within? the fear within me is beyond anything your soul can make. you cannot kill me in a way that matters.
Me cocking the gun, tears streaming down my face: I’M NOT SCARED OF YOU)

Given all that, maybe it doesn’t matter that I didn’t do anything to celebrate the solstices.

Living hyperlocally

I got to know my town and neighborhood much better this year. I chatted with neighbors (and sometimes argued with them) on the Facebook community for my town. I learned where to find one of my favorite spring ephemerals from my local nature group. I started having milk delivered to my house weekly from a local dairy. I discovered new trails, new landmarks, new lands, within the boundaries of my own town.

To the individual points:

Attend a town meeting. I did not do this — perhaps because the last town meeting was held in a gymnasium at the height of the pandemic. However, thanks to vote by mail, I did vote in local primaries for the first time, which was enlightening.

In January, before the pandemic hit the U.S., I attended a meeting of the landowners’ association I’m part of, and learned about our efforts to fight fanwort in the lake. (I also walked the two miles to the high school where it was being held, rather than drive).

Do more local shopping. This was hard to do this year — again, because pandemic, and the shortage of many goods at the beginning of it. (I never thought I’d be lining up at the Hannaford at 7am for toilet paper).

But also during the pandemic, my local dairy started delivering door to door! I now enjoy having local eggs and milk and creamer on my doorstep every Thursday morning.

Other than that, I shopped at Aubuchon more than Home Depot (small chain vs. large chain), and I tried to use Target rather than Amazon (chain that generally treats its employees decently vs. putting more money in Jeff Bezos’ pocket).

It ain’t much, but it’s honest work.

Improve my relationship with my neighbors. I can’t say I made much progress on this, even though the pandemic might have given me the opportunity to.

Not being wasteful

Complete Uber Frugal Month challenges in January and June. I did this in January but not in June, ironically, even though in June I was out of a job and strapped for cash flow. I found the exercises interesting to do, teaching me a great deal about my relationship with money, and what my goals were.

Read The Zero Waste Home, and incorporate at least one of the tips into my life. I did not read this specific book due to interminable waitlists (thanks, pandemic), but I did read 100 Ways to Go Zero Waste, so I think that counts. I took notes on the tips I liked, but there was a lot of dumb in there, I gotta admit. It was emblematic of “clueless city dweller has some bullshit ideas about the natural world,” which tends to get my virtual panties in a wad, since ecological consciousness is intrinsically linked to nature appreciation in my head.

What I am doing differently, trash-wise, from 2019:

  • Cleaning out K-cups to recycle the plastic and aluminum. I also canceled my standing order for them, with the goal of eventually not using them at all. (Once I get through the backlog).
  • Recycling a few more things I didn’t know I could recycle (Recycle Smart MA is great for this, if you also live in the Bay State).
  • Using handkerchiefs and rags instead of paper products more reliably. (Still not gonna clean up cat sick with a rag, though).
  • Driving a lot less — again, thanks to the pandemic and now having a fully-remote job.
  • I asked for a bunch of things for Christmas that would help with less wasteful living — Stasher bags, beeswax wraps for food — but, alas, did not get them. Will have to invest in some myself.

I’d like to do more in the future, of course, but as in everything, home environmentalism is a practice, not a destination.

Pay off my student loan and Matt’s car loan. Done! Actually, we paid off all our consumer debt this year, despite my not having a job — including the balance on our HELOC post-bathroom reno, and credit card debt for Brianna’s health crisis in January/February. The combination of frugality, a severance package with release of claims, increased unemployment due to the pandemic, and finding a new job relatively quickly actually left our bank account in a pretty good state.

Knowing things

As I said in my original post, intellectual curiosity is already a huge part of my life, so I expected this sub-theme to be easy to accomplish.

In some ways I was right — if nothing else, I know far more about identifying fauna, flora, and fungi than I did a year ago! However…

Join the “friends of the town library.” As I mentioned, this goal required me to print out a form, write a check, and go into the library LIKE A BARBARIAN. (A barbarian librarian?)

… and then said library shut down completely for the first six months of the pandemic.

It’s been open for browsing-by-appointment for a couple of months now, so if I was really determined, I could have done this. But let’s be real, I was more determined not to get COVID.

Visit a few new-to-me local parks, attractions, hiking trails, and businesses. The pandemic made this difficult for inside locations, but as far as hiking trails and conservation areas went, I get a gold star here.

I visited Robbs Hill for the first time to photograph hepaticas, on a tip from someone in my local nature group. I visited Cowdrey Nature Center for the second time ever, taking a new trail that made a ring around the river/swamp in the center, and identified all kinds of new-to-me mushrooms and spring ephemerals. I discovered the Lane Conservation Area and the Large Town Forest, both of which border the Hickory Woods I know well. Speaking of, for the first time I walked the ring/main trail of Hickory Woods, from the “official” trailhead back to my house. I also visited the Peabody Conservation Area, another patch of conservation land affiliated with the North County Land Trust.

My Buy Nothing group also played a part in learning more about the roads of this town! My journeys to pick up gifts brought me to parts of the town I’d never explored before, including the weird warren of roads northeast of Hickory Hills Lake, disconnected from the rest of the town when the lake was created as a reservoir.

I also had the opportunity to look at a map of my town from the 1880s, and that’s when I realized the street I live on once cut directly across what is now the bottom of the lake — yet another section of road that once connected the neighborhoods on two sides of the lake. I also saw small roads and farms where the Large Town Forest now is, and that explained for me why the trails looked wide enough to drive a truck through (spoiler: they were), as well as why there were miles and miles of fieldstone walls back there.

(Well, that’s also just… New England. As I tell ANYONE WHO LISTENS, Massachusetts is more forested today than it was in Thoreau’s time. Underneath our feet are the remnants of thousands of Colonial and 19th century farms).

Further reading (literally)

I also did some relevant reading this year. One book I read this year and recommend is Farming, a Handbook, by the poet Wendell Berry. His poetry quietly, beautifully asserts that the people who put their hands in the dirt, day after day — farmers — are the ones who understand the natural world best of all. This is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with!

Relatedly, I also read Dirt Work: an Education in the Woods, by Christine Byl, who worked trail crew at national parks in Montana and Alaska. This book is a series of essays about that experience, working with one’s hands, and the natural world — including the humans that live in that world. Here’s a favorite quote of mine:

Outdoors is not catalog or movie set, not just work site, not even sanctuary, no matter how nuanced my desires appeared (name the plants, still the soul). Outdoors is a place where salmon swim upstream to die where they were born, where bears eat the salmon so they can survive their winter dens, where humans move through calling loudly, intent on fish and berries and bears. It’s a place to be reminded that, while sport is fun, while the rush of summits, linked ski turns, and belay stances are a joyful thing, they are second. Auxiliary to a world that is not playground but homeschool, where I am taught to settle in, over and over, until being outside isn’t about endurance or leisure, but life.

Christine Byl, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods

On a completely different (but also related) note, I read two of the Discworld Witches sub-series, Equal Rites and Wyrd Sisters. I didn’t think Equal Rites had much to recommend it — it is the infamous Early Pratchett, and I really didn’t like the gender-essentialist division of “witch” and “wizard” which is the core premise of the book. I did like this quote, which was very much in service to my theme of the year:

“Do you think I used magic?”

Esk looked down at the queen bee. She looked up at the witch.

“No,” she said. “I think you just know a lot about bees.”

Granny grinned.

“Exactly correct. That’s one form of magic, of course.”

“What, just knowing things?”

“Knowing things that other people don’t know.”

Equal Rites, Terry Pratchett

Wyrd Sisters, on the other hand, edged into what people love Pratchett for: humor not for the sake of humor, but in service to a greater theme. This one is full of Shakespearean tropes, and (like all books I love), touches on what it means to make art. It didn’t quite go as far as I would have liked, however.

This year I also read (85% of) Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed. It is mostly about space anarchism — as a friend joked, “the through-line is communism.” But this quote, where the main character observes his wife, felt on-theme:

Text of a quote from Ursula K. LeGuin: “Her concern with landscapes and living creatures was passionate. This concern, feebly called “love of nature,” seemed to Shevek to be something much broader than love. There are souls, he thought, whose umbilicus has never been cut. They never got weaned from the universe. They do not understand death as an enemy; they look forward to rotting and turning into humus. It was strange to see Takver take a leaf into her hand, or even a rock. She became an extension of it, it of her.”

What else?

That’s a lot already! But some other things I am proud of this year:

  • Rediscovered Dungeons & Dragons! I’m now in four different games with two different groups, and I love it. Still hope to blog more about that at some point!
  • Finished the last round of major edits on Lioness (working on a query packet now!)
  • Got my first short story acceptance — “The Mirrors of Her Eyes” is forthcoming from Daily Science Fiction!
  • Wrote some poems.
  • Wrote some blog posts.
  • Wrote (and continue to write) a D&D/Forgotten Realms fanfic, “Bright Future,” which is about my druid’s relationship with a certain NPC in the Out of the Abyss adventure.
  • Read 25 books. (Didn’t hit my Goodreads goal, but this was a rough year for reading. FOR SOME REASON).
  • Found a new, 100% remote job that (three months in) I absolutely adore. (I am now a senior frontend engineer at Fishtown Analytics, the makers of the data transformation tool dbt).
  • Spent a beautiful two weeks with my mom in Plattsburgh (all safety precautions were taken).
  • Recorded a bunch of videos about Edna St. Vincent Millay poems for Youtube.
  • Started a weekly virtual coworking event, which brought together friends from various different social circles (writing, larping, etc). I think it’s been super beneficial to everyone involved, and it’s been great keeping up with my friends and their projects on a weekly basis.
  • Built Teamer, a tea-timing web app.

But most importantly:

  • I did not get COVID.
  • My (highly vulnerable) mother did not get COVID.
  • I did not lose anyone close to me due to COVID.
  • I survived possibly the worst year in recent memory.

Next time we’ll have my 2021 prospective! A warning that “next time” may still be a couple of weeks out — the theme will be “making my outsides match my insides,” but I haven’t plotted out the specifics yet.

2019 Retrospective

For the first time in a long time, this post doesn’t feel like an apology. This was a great year, and I can’t help but think that my theme for 2019 — emotional homesteading — is why.

As outlined in that post, my emotional homesteading plan had six main points. Let’s go over those first, and then I’ll have some things to say about what else happened this year. I might even take some time to reflect on the entire decade!

Emotional Homesteading

1) Meditation and mindfulness practice

This year I forged a regular meditation practice, with some help from the Calm app, which I love. I only started using Calm in May, but from the records it keeps, I estimate I meditate two out of three days, for an average of 10-12 minutes each time.

This habit has helped me to stay on an even keel despite some rough seas this year. Meditation really is a practice, like I wrote — I don’t notice an affect my mood and overall happiness if I skip one day, or a few days. But eventually it eats away at that peaceful refuge behind a waterfall that I’ve worked so hard to build. In that way, it’s a little like the sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea.

2) Boundaries

As I wrote in my original post, boundaries are about knowing the difference between what I want and what other people want. In that vein I wanted to ask “who wants this?” before taking on a new activity.

I also wanted to be more aware that what I want in the moment may be very different from my long-term needs and wants.

This is always hard to quantify, but I think I did okay. One example I can think of off the top of my head is: I turned down Matt’s plan to run a 10k before Consequences next year, because I knew that running it with other people would bring out the ugly competitive part of myself.

Relatedly, I know there were some things I wanted to do — pretty sure they were what I wanted to do, too — that I passed up because I knew it would be too much for me. (Like declining to play Dammerung larp, which looked fascinating to me, but was super far away, in PA, and would have required a high quality of kit).

It’s still tough for me to anticipate how Lise-of-the-moment will respond to a commitment that Lise-of-Christmas-Past has made, but I’m developing some heuristics. Like: don’t schedule things on the Thursday before a larp, or maybe don’t schedule plans in December when you need to prepare to host Christmas for your family, or if you can, take time off to decompress after larps.

3) Self-care

When I wrote about self-care in the prospective, I didn’t use this fabulous quote, which really gets to the heart of what self-care means to me:

True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.

Brianna Wiest, Thought Catalog

You know I love my escapism! But escapism can be a symptom of something wounded in me.

This past week was tough for me, for Secret Reasons. So it is perhaps not surprising that I chose to start my Saturday with a session of Craft the World, the silly dwarf building game I’ve been playing lately. And I’m at peace with the fact that that’s the best I could do at that moment. Rest is as important to the self-care journey as anything else.

That said, it can be hard sometimes to tell the difference between the need for rest, and plain ol’ experiential avoidance. I need new experiences, but I also need solitude. This quote from poet May Sarton’s journal sums up this tension:

I am here alone for the first time weeks, to take up my ‘real’ life again, at last. That is what is strange — that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life unless there is time alone in which to explore and to discover what is happening or has happened. Without the interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet I taste it fully only when I am alone…

May Sarton

I am still learning this balance. This year, I think I pushed it a little, trying to see where my limits lay. And in the process I had some fabulous adventures! I also learned that I’m actually more of an ambivert than I originally thought, but when my depression is bad, I definitely act more like an introvert.

At the end of the day, I feel I showed strongly in terms of self-care this year, forging the sort of life I don’t have to escape from.

First of all, I got back to walking/running in a gentler way. (I actually meant to run a race, for a charity I cared about, and not with anyone I knew — but I came down with a bad cold and couldn’t!) My fitness showed when I visited Bath in November, and was able to walk the six-mile Skyline trail and not be much the worse for wear (except covered in mud).

Then, I went through the process of getting diagnosed with ADHD, and finally got my diagnosis right at the end of December. (Combined type). I still need to get treatment, which is a challenge all its own! (Not a lot of psychiatrists in our area that are taking new patients).

Oh, and I took some baths in my new bathtub 😉

4) Simplicity and minimalism

I did okay in this area. I did a few “declutter bursts,” where you get rid of 100 items in an hour. (Honestly, counting the items was the hardest part). Plus near the end of the year Matt got into the spirit of decluttering and cleaning the house — partially because his parents were visiting, partially because he wanted to be able to work in the sewing room again — and we got rid of a LOT of stuff, including books, clothes, gadgets, and lots of unnecessary paper.

I also re-read Thoreau’s Walden this year, as promised. In the process I remembered that really everything good in Walden is in the first and last chapters, and the middle is soggy and tedious.

I did not succeed in going through my collection of indie perfumes, mostly because I boggle at what to do with all of them.

5) Creativity

I’m pretty happy with where I landed with this goal. As promised, I did get back to writing — a.k.a. editing Lioness — but not in any sort of hurried way. I’m still working my way through it. It continues to be incredibly challenging, and I keep taking long breaks and then forgetting everything I wrote and then having to re-read.

Other things I created this year:

I also made some progress on the Neverending Cross-stitch Project, and did some sketching as Melusina. I began work on getting this antique quilt I own ready to hang on the wall, but faced some obstacles with how damaged it was, and needing to repair it.

I was really drawn this year towards the advice espoused in Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism: fix or create something every week. (I’m paraphrasing; I don’t have the book in front of me right now).

6) Connection

I feel mostly satisfied here, although there are some further steps I could have taken.

I definitely was more involved with family — I went out to my Uncle Joe’s house twice for family events, and I hosted a visit from Matt’s parents, and my dad. I went to visit my mom a couple of times, in addition to our annual trip to Stratford, and I also went camping with my dad.

I sent out holiday cards this year! And I’m getting in the habit of sending out postcards regularly. (Let me know if you’d like to be on the postcard/holiday card list. Everyone likes getting mail, right?)

One area I would like to expand: I’ve realized I have a need for what my pal EB terms “intimate friendships.” i.e. emotionally deep, connective, platonic relationships. (Funnily enough, exactly the sort of friendship I have with EB!) I’ve identified a few people I’d like to try to forge these with, but I was shy about reaching out. I hope to do so in 2020.

Overall

Living with the theme of “emotional homesteading” worked well for me. You may recall I was worried that, given the number of goals, and the vastness of the mandate, I might judge myself too harshly when I got to the end of the year. But on the contrary, it all feels like a win to me. Maybe I have learned to be more gentle with myself.

I’m happy with what I learned, what I did, and who I was in 2019.

I’m happy.

Other stuff wot I did in 2019

Many of these things were in fulfillment of my famous 101 Goals in 1,001 Days list, the period of which ends in February. At 45 items completed out of 101, I’ve knocked the socks off every other time I’ve done this list. If nothing else, I’ve gotten better at setting achievable goals and following through with them!

So this year I…

  • Read 26 books
  • Visited Bath, England
  • Attended Lucky Consequences in Christchurch, England
  • Attended the UK Freeforms run of Torch of Freedom in Retford, England
  • Did an “authors and American revolution” tour of historic Lexington and Concord, MA
  • Celebrated my birthday in New York City
  • Made an impromptu trip to Cape Cod, and rolled around in the ocean surf at Race Point Beach
  • Went rock-climbing
  • Increased my retirement account balance by 66% over 2017
  • Built a bridge for the stream 🙂 Although it got washed away…
  • Attended the Stratford Festival with my mom
  • Went camping with my dad, and visited Ausable Chasm
  • Planned and executed a “Skyrim dinner” with Alison
  • Painted and decorated the guest bedroom
  • Completed our bathroom remodel (okay, my part in this was merely organizational, but STILL…)
  • Took a knife skills class
  • Played in four theater-style larps
  • NPCed five Madrigal 3 events
  • PCed four Shadowvale events
  • Read Jane Eyre, which I’ve been meaning to read since forever
  • Donated blood, at great personal discomfort
  • Attended the Big E
  • Went peach-picking
  • Had a picnic on an island in our lake
  • Hiked Mount Wachusett
  • Slept out under the stars
  • Visited New Haven, CT and ate a hamburger at the famous Louis’ Lunch
  • Visited 30 (!) new-to-me Atlas Obscura sites
  • Attended two beer festivals, and visited a number of microbreweries
  • Set up a new compost bin

The toll of the decade

At the New Year’s Eve party I attended, I was trying to figure out where I was physically ten years ago, on December 31st, 2009. I couldn’t recall precisely — maybe at Chad and Amanda’s New Year’s Eve party, when they were still holding them?– but it brought up a whole storm of memories about my life at that time.

In the past decade I…

Changed careers. I’d lost my job in May of 2009, and used it as an opportunity to change careers, from statistics/research analysis to front-end web development. For about a year I pursued a number of part-time gigs in both fields. I was probably just beginning my contract as a full-stack developer at Nowspeed around the time of that poorly-remembered NYE party. In June of 2010 I would start my job as a junior front-end developer at IDG, where I still am today — though a lot more senior now!

(Say what you will about the decade, but I definitely know a lot more about JavaScript than I did ten years ago 😉 )

Wrote a theater-style larp! (Cracks in the Orb, which I mostly won’t run any more, because Reasons)

Got into boffer larp. NPCed my first one, then PCed one, then staffed one for a time. Because I didn’t have enough expensive hobbies, apparently!

Wrote a couple of novels: Gods and Fathers, my last trunked novel, and well as Lioness, which, it seems, I will never be finished editing!

Attended Viable Paradise 17, an SFF writing workshop, and thus joined a community of amazing, brilliant people.

Got serious about my health. I sought treatment for a bunch of chronic health conditions — PCOS, sleep apnea, and my familial high cholesterol — and I am happier for it.

Started running. I’m the most casual of casual runners, but I’m still doin’ it!

Fired my shitty therapist, and got a new, awesome one.

Broke my left ankle.

Had cubital tunnel release surgery after my left hand went numb suddenly.

Traveled to England eight times (!), and Canada three? four? times.

Paid off our second mortgage.

Made some major renovations to the house.

Lost my cat Yamamaya to kidney disease, and thus mourned the first death of a pet as an adult.

Watched my mother become sick with a chronic lung disease, and was powerless to help.

Went to many, many weddings, was an attendant in four (!), and blessedly attended zero funerals.

Drove the same car (a 2007 Yaris) for most of that time. It’s still going strong, at thirteen years and 230k miles!

Did… four? 101 Goals in 1001 Days challenges. I’m on track for this to be the best challenge yet, in terms of number of goals completed.

Overall? I think I’m much happier than I was back then, so despite the trash fire of a world we live in today, it was a good decade for me.

Let’s do this again in ten years’ time.

The last photo of the decade: some pfantastic pfeffernüsse. Or at least the last picture I took. (Otherwise it would be a picture of Matt’s butt in tight Regency era trousers, but while that would please me, I doubt he would like it very much).