Saturday, September 08, 2018

Right Here, Right Now: Summer 2018


It's been a long, strange summer! The blog took a backseat but now that autumn is approaching (in some parts of the world - here in North Carolina, we'll be enjoying beach days until at least October) I hope to have more time to write about living on less and doing more with your budget. In the meantime, here's a snapshot of what I've been up to these last few months. 

Celebrating


The birth of my brand-new nephew, Oliver! He was born in the middle of August, just like his Aunt Chrissy, and I got to spend last week with him (and my sister). Babies don't do much besides cry, poop, and wear adorable onesies, so it was a quiet visit. (At times, very quiet - waking a sleeping baby is basically a cardinal sin.) Despite the low key vacation, I was grateful for the chance to meet the newest member of our family while he was still brand new, and I look forward to a lifetime of knowing him. 

Reading


The best book I read this summer was The Ensemble by Aja Gabel. It was exactly the kind of novel I love best - multiple points-of-view, a timeline that spans decades, a plot that grapples with art and love and creativity. The main characters are members of a string quartet and even though I can't carry a tune, I found myself deeply invested in each narrator's arc, musical and otherwise. Other books I read included the March trilogy, a graphic novel about the Civil Rights Movement (thanks, book club!) and The Simple Path to Wealth, which I plan to review on the blog - stay tuned! 

Writing


The novel, as usual. In the meantime, I do have some big news! You're looking at the winner of the 2018 Cos Barnes Fellowship in Fiction. This merit-based fellowship is awarded annually to a North Carolina writer, and my prize is a week-long residency at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities. I'm honored, thrilled, excited, and grateful for the recognition and the encouragement. As a slow writer working on a Big Thing, I don't have many opportunities for publications or awards. When I receive one, it's like a burst of much-needed energy, the kind of affirmation that says, "Yes, keep going, don't give up." 

Watching


Nathan ordered me a last-minute birthday present and signed up for an Amazon Prime trial subscription to get two-day shipping. We plan to cancel it when the month is up, because we don't want or need Amazon Prime, but in the meantime we made the most of it and watched the first season of Mr. Robot. It was pretty good, but not worth an annual $120 for Prime. We also caught up on The Handmaid's Tale (terrifying, beautiful, brilliant) and that's pretty much it, and recently dove back into The Good Place, which is one of the most wonderfully wild shows I've ever seen. We don't watch as much TV in the summer, which is how it should be. 

Eating


I'm still focusing on protein! My new favorite meal is a morning smoothie with a frozen banana, a cup of frozen strawberries, two tablespoons of peanut butter powder, a scoop of chocolate protein powder, and a cup and a half of unsweetened almond milk. It's got something like 25 grams of protein in it, with the bonus of being delicious. I usually drink it in the car, on my way to work, which is a life I never imagined I'd live, yet here we are. 

Drinking


Rosé all day.

Coasting 


Every summer, I get to a point where I realize I haven't been in the beach in weeks. Which is a shame, because I LIVE AT THE BEACH. And now that summer is winding down and the tourists have gone home, it's time to act like it. We've had a number of great beach days these last few weeks, including kayaking to Masonboro Island (my favorite place in Wilmington), fighting crowds at Wrightsville Beach, eating donuts at Carolina Beach, and taking a boat out to Lea Island. I see a quite many more dips in the ocean in my future, and I'm not at all mad about it.

How was your summer? What did you eat, drink, read, watch, write or celebrate? How excited are you for September? It's one of my favorite months, and I'm hoping for a good one. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

This Is 36

beach run

Earlier this month, I turned 36.

36 is not a milestone birthday in the traditional sense. I'm not starting a new decade, or reaching a halfway point. I'm just sort of moving along. Growing, I think, and learning, I hope, and becoming more myself than ever before. This past year felt big, though from the outside it probably looked fairly quiet. My footing became more sure, my place in the world more concrete. I cared less about so many things, and more about so many others. This shift has been going on for a while, but it never ceases to make me grateful. I guess that's the word I've been searching for - I feel grateful for each moment, each experience, each step forward. For each birthday, milestone or not.

For the last 5 years, I've marked my birthday with a digital time capsule, which has been a nice way to reflect, take stock, and move forward. Here's this year's installment.

Thirty-six is a career, rather than a job. It's nearly one year at a company where I feel valued and appreciated, where I enjoy what I do and hope to do it for a long time. It's learning both tangible and intangible skills, everything from new software to new confidence. It's the stability of a good paycheck and good benefits and a clear path forward. It's still having complicated feelings about the notion of work, because I know how rare my situation is, and how many others continue to toil at unfulfilling jobs. It's acknowledging my privilege and doing my best to advocate and vote for change, so everyone can feel good about how and what and why they're contributing.

Thirty-six is a family that is suddenly bigger. It's a week-old nephew, a brand new human I will know and love for the rest of my life. It's trying to manage complicated relationships and then learning to step back, because I can't control other people.  It's also my chosen family - friends who are also in the thick of life where shit is getting real. Professional successes, personal failures, tragic endings, new beginnings. It's the realization that our 30s are a decade of reckoning, and being glad we can reckon together.

Thirty-six is writing, still. Working on a novel, still. Feeling gratitude for the process, for the gift of always having the work in the back of my mind. It's viewing writing as the invisible scaffolding upon which everything - my routines, my experiences, my purpose - is built. Some days the writing is difficult and slow, other days it is less difficult and less slow. Thirty-six is more patience with the process and less competition with everyone else. The work will be ready when it's ready, and not a moment sooner.

Thirty-six is a narrow yet deep. It's pulling away from social media, the online spaces where I spent so much of my 20s and 30s thus far. It's sharing less and reading more, trying my hardest to focus on things that matter, at least to me. Thirty-six is understanding that the best parts of yourself don't have to be put on display or serve as proof. That just being comfortable in your own skin, with your own thoughts, is proof enough.

Thirty-six is local politics, knocking on doors and making phone calls, and hoping it makes a difference. It's trying hard to stay engaged, even as the country nosedives into chaos and buffoonery. Thirty-six is wondering how we'll look back on these years, because picturing the future is sometimes easier than dealing with the present. Then it's sighing, picking up another packet of GOTV literature, and knocking on more doors, because the present is all we've got.

Thirty-six the strongest and fastest I've ever been. It's delighting in my body and the things it can do. It's good food and plenty of moisturizer and nothing too complicated, because simple is sustainable. Health is wealth, and I've never been richer.

PS:

This was 31.
This was 32.
This was 33
This was 34
This was 35.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Slow Sunday


Here's the thing about getting paid on the last day of the month: the last few days leading up to that paycheck tend to be pretty lean. It's even worse when those days fall on a weekend, which is when most of my spending tends to happen. 

Needless to say, today has been slow and quiet, relaxing yet industrious. I planned to run this morning, but when I woke up a thunderstorm was raging outside. We've had the wettest summer on record, so I shouldn't have been surprised. Instead I worked on my novel and organized my desk and finished reading an excellent book I borrowed from from the library. Last week, a friend at work gave me a gallon of blueberries from her grandparents' yard, so I made oatmeal blueberry muffins to share with her, and blueberry crumb bars to share with Nathan. Our grocery budget was already at zero for the month, so I tried to salvage a few other things. I massaged a wilting bag of kale with lemon and garlic for tomorrow's lunch, threw some brown bananas into the freezer for smoothies, and cut up the rest of a watermelon. The chickens got the kale ribs and the watermelon rinds, the compost got the banana peels, I already ate a muffin and it was delicious. In an hour, I'm going to hit up a pay-what-you-can yoga class, and then meet my friend Kat for ice-cream, because there's always room in the budget for ice-cream. Later, I'll swing by another friends' bon voyage barbecue and hope it stops raining long enough to cry my goodbyes in their backyard. 

Despite the constraints of this day – thunderstorms, funds – it’s been a lovely day. Sometimes joy is easier to feel when your options are limited, when the choice is clear.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Less Like A Mess


I gave myself a deadline to finish a draft of my current novel by the end of summer. By "draft" I mean a thing that starts and ends, with a conflict that makes sense, a conclusion that surprises yet satisfies, language that sings. Something that looks less like a mess of scenes and more like an actual book. 

The summer is half over and I haven't made as much progress as I'd hoped. As it turns out, writing a book is hard. The characters don't listen, the plot unravels mid-sentence, and after three years I still can't figure out which point of view to use. (Currently: all of them. I told you it was a mess.) I also have a habit of reworking the first section until it shines, while the latter pages languish. Which means my first chapter is one of the best things I've ever written, but there's no scaffolding beneath it. I should probably fix that. 

Meanwhile, I've been cheating on my novel with shorter fiction. Earlier this summer, I was grateful to see two pieces find homes with dream journals - a reward for bad behavior, but I'll take it. 

*

"Material Remains," Flyway Journal

Our backyard was large and sprawling, cut off from the rest of the neighborhood by a tall white fence. For as long as we could remember, Dad mowed the lawn every Sunday and Mom grew sunflowers near the shed. But that spring, after the trouble started, we were the only ones who ventured past the sliding glass door.

*

"An Ocean This Big," Monkeybicycle

Raquel is not a marine biologist, but she can tell right away that the whale washed up on Bellhaven Beach is dying. It’s late winter and the wind gusts, cutting through her coat as she walks along the shore. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Three Hundred Words


As usual, I've neglected this blog for weeks on end. It used to be that summer meant a break from drudgery - that I had fewer responsibilities and more time to fritter away in the sunshine. Then I became a grown up, and suddenly summer is busy, busy, busy. Longer days. More social activities. Seasonal chores like mowing the lawn, rinsing our swimsuits, and sweeping sand from every crevice. Summer is languid, seems to go on forever, but the days pass by all the same. I blink and it's half over, lost in a river of rosé.  

*

That's one side of the story, the one I post on Instagram. The other side is that the world's problems are part of this river, too, threatening daily to sweep us away. It's why I barely tweet, and instead spend my time scrolling through my feed, gasping at the latest horrors while feeling helpless and afraid. It's why I push myself to stay active with local politics, even though it's rarely glamorous - I need to do something tangible, and hashtags just don't cut it. I've yet to find the balance between listening and contributing, so mostly I just listen. 


But having a voice matters, too. Even if it's just a few minutes spent rambling on a blog hardly anyone reads, even if it's just crafting a few paragraphs to push into the void. So really, this is a long-winded way to say I would like to visit this space more often, and share the things I think about, big and small (but mostly small). I've missed you, and I hope you're well, and that together we can create something new. Something that doesn't quite fit anywhere, but makes us happy despite - or even because - of that simple yet inscrutable fact.