2014/2015

So we’re a couple days into 2015 now.

Welcome to the New Year, errbody.

I haven’t made any resolutions yet, partially because of that Habit RPG thing I’ve been harping on about.  I’ve already put the things that would normally count as resolutions (start drinking more water!  floss your teeth!  don’t be a slobby slobster all the slobbing time!)  into Habit RPG, so I’m pretty set with the whole self-improvement thing, New Year notwithstanding.  The goals and the methodology for achieving the goals are in their very neat 8-bit place and at this point it’s just a matter of seeing which ones stick and which ones don’t and then deciding if the goals that weren’t so sticky deserve more attention or if they were kind of a waste of energy to begin with.

Like reading poetry, for instance.  Why exactly do I want to read poetry every day?  Is that really necessary?  Or is it just one of those things that sounds good for a minute and is actually kind of stupid?

Anways.

Something that I’ve been meaning to do is the Guillebeau Year End Review.  It’s a great way of looking back at the last year, evaluating what went well and what didn’t, and identifying the areas of your life that you want to put more (or less) energy into. It’s also great at distinguishing between goal setting as opposed to resolutions.

The thing is, though, that right now I’m just super content.

I mean 2014 was exhausting.

For a lot of reasons.

Part of that exhaustion was because of the good stuff.  I traveled to New York and Panama and experienced Chickentown (Sshhh) for the first time and saw some great concerts.  I went to a lot of plays and an opera, discovered some incredible albums and musicians, saw my nieces and nephews play sports and dance and sing.  I ate some really amazing food.  I met some really, really cool people.  I read some great books.  I did some really fun jobs, from managing a hostel to doing social media for a tiny publishing company and working some really fun promos.

Alternatively, I worked erratically and frequently was booked when my friends were getting together.  I lost a couple friends.  I had an ex who had a lot of trouble taking “leave me alone” at face value.  I sometimes had trouble balancing commitments, which made me alternatively feel like a bad aunt, sister, daughter, employee, friend, and girlfriend.

So it hasn’t been perfect.  And I obviously have goals and things that I’d like to be (or am) working towards right now, but life lately is very good.  I’ve been in Minnesota for a little over a year now.  I am surrounded by my family and am slowly by slowly rekindling relationships with old friends.  I’m able to spend time with my nieces and nephews and sisters and brother and mother with relative regularity.  I grab casual dinners with friends instead of catching up with months worth of material every time I swing through town.  I have a job that is very okay that pays better than okay.  I am half of an amazing couple and my partner is a person who I respect and love supermuch.  And the feeling is refreshingly mutual.  Lately I’ve been finding time to hole up in coffee shops and write.  I have started reading the stacks of books that I’ve accumulated over the years and I have the energy to read stuff that has actual content to it instead of the fluff that I’d started to read disproportionately.

2014 was, for lack of a less cliched cliche, a roller coaster.  And my head is kind of spinning and I’m a little out of breath, but I keep catching myself being straight. up. grateful. for where I am at this moment.

For now, instead of looking into 2015 for everything that it has to offer, I’d rather take a moment to appreciate the place that 2014 has deposited me.

Because it’s a good place to be.

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2014 New Year Goals.

One of my favorite bloggers, Chris Guillebeau, does an annual review that I have found kind of inspiring.  Most of my favorite bloggers tend to suggest making goals for the New Year rather than resolutions, which is a helpful distinction for me.  It helps me create actionable plans for the next year rather than my usual wishy washy (or way too specific) goals…like “exercising more” or “reading one book every week”.  With resolutions I either have no idea where to start or I fall behind immediately and quit out of frustration.

Three is my number, so I set my goals this year in a system of threes.  First, I divided my life into three sections.  Each section is separated into three categories and I have three goals for each category.  I’ve bolded the goals so if you’re interested in what I’m doing, but not the specifics or the why you can skim.  Gawsh, I’m considerate.

OMGCOFFEE

Flowcharts are highly superior to lists. I learned this from Swedes in India.

I.  Passion
1)  Creativity
i.    Write lyrics song to the song Jeff sent me.  I like writing songs and finally have a springboard since I have no instrumental talent of my own.  Booyah.
ii.   Create nap time story blog.  I’ve started making up stories for my niece when I’m putting her down for naps.  Cataloging them in a blog would be a good way for me to practice writing fiction and might be fun to look back on later.
iii.  Paint the awesome painting in my head.  There is a painting I really want to make and have half created…in my head.  I would love to create it, but I want the appearance of oil paint and I’m used to acrylics and it isn’t my usual slap-dash experimental style.  I would actually need to do some planning, so it’s an intimidating project.
2) Travel
i.    South Africa for Isaac’s wedding.  I haven’t been to Africa since 2008 and who doesn’t love a wedding as an excuse to go somewhere new and beautiful?
ii.   Spend about a month in Panama.  (Read Path Between the Seas first)  I would love to do some outdoorsy stuff in Panama and evidently have a family member working out there. 
iii.  Teach English in South Korea for around six months.  Get paid to hang out with kids and see a new country?  Yeah, sure.  Sounds great.
3) Education
i.    Learn HTML and CS2  I am interested in getting into technical writing.  HTML and CS2 both seem to be necessary skills for technical writers these days.
ii.   Become conversational in Spanish by  year end.  Because I’m 25, monolingual and currently work in an industry where Spanish could get me better jobs.
iii.  Finish TEFL courses by mid-year.  I am not sure if I’m doing these yet, because it sounds like not all teaching abroad opportunities really care about TEFL certification, but dependent on a couple conversations I will have in the next few weeks, I would like to be certified around Easter, because I want to head to South Korea by May.

II.  Relationships
1)  Family
i.    Spend one-on-one time with every member of my family.  Because I love all my siblings and, strange as it sounds, I would like to get to know them all better.
ii.   Make sure that I give all of my nieces and nephews presents for their birthdays.  I am not always in Minnesota, so it can be easy to forget to get a gift for nieces and nephews when their birthdays come around.  Still, presents are really special when you’re little and I want to respect that.
iii.  [SECRET GOAL INCLUDED ONLY FOR TERTIARY PURPOSES]  It’s a good one.
2)  Friends
i.    Be intentional about doing things with friends instead of just grabbing coffee or drinks.  I love just hanging out with my friends, but I think it’s wise and fun to do interesting things with the people I like.
ii.   Figure out what qualities are most important to me in friends (a la AoM and Oprah, according to the google search I just did to find the AoM link) and be intentional about seeking out those qualities in new friends and realizing those qualities in old friends.
iii.  Give.  Love.  I think I’m pretty good about this already, but I haven’t been in Minnesota for a while and would just like to be especially aware about how I interact with the people I love.
3)  Self
i.    Play more.  I could stand to be a little less serious and a little more active.  Playing more would cover both of those bases.
ii.   Fix my super meaningful tattoo that Bridgeport Tattoo so kindly f-ed the f up out of a despicable sense tattoolitism.
iii.   Take the time to figure out what virtues are most important to me and be true to them.  Know thyself.  Or something.  (In all seriousness, in this last year I constantly found myself in situations where I did not feel like I was being true to myself, but I never had the certainty I needed to extricate myself.  I would like to cultivate that sense of certainty.)

III.  Adulthood
1)  Work
i.    Publish one story and one article.  Preferably a travel article.
ii.   Work out plans for Hot Cocoa Café and decide if it is a practical business.  Not to overlink the Art of Manliness or anything, but last year they did a fantastic post on Hot Cocoa.  It made me think about HOW MUCH FUN it would be to start a Hot Cocoa Café that specializes in all sorts of different kinds of hot cocoa, ranging from the bitter to the sweet, the classic to the current.  This year I’ll write up some design plans and toy around with the idea a bit just for funsies.  If I decide that it’s a practical business model, I’ll start seriously pursuing it next year.
iii.  Write a novel.  Preferably that futuristic Plato’s Cave thing that I started when I moved back to Minnesota.
2)  Money
i.    Pay off half of student loans.  (I might be changing this to 1/4 of my loans because for some reason I keep convincing myself that I only have $10k in debt when it’s really $20k.)
ii.   Start a savings account.  I’m a quarter of a century old.  It’s about time.
iii.  Invest in a new computer.  Especially since some of the learning stuff that I want to do (HTML and CS2, especially) are going to require a more modern OS.
3)  Home
i.    Keep the place where I am living clean.  No more living in filth would be nice.  And now that I would just be picking up after myself it seems much more manageable.
ii.   Research logistics on buying an income property.  Since I’ll be out of state for most of the year, I don’t think that I’ll get around to actually purchasing an income property yet, but it seems like a really good source of (mostly) passive income that would also allow for money-making while I was off doing other things.
iii.  Find an apartment.  Consider whether AirBnB would be practical when out of town.  Also decide if I want to live on my income property, too, or if the two should be separate.

That took a long time, so I am not going to edit it.  Doneskies.

What are your New Year goals/resolutions?  Do you prefer flow charts or lists?  Do you also plan on completely, wonderfully overextending yourself in 2014?  Did you know that writing questions at the end of blogs is actually SUPER FUN and kind of hard?  Because I kind of forgot most of what I wrote already.

Let’s Talk About School.

For those of you who are not aware, I am starting school again.  In the past four years I have attended four different colleges.

First, as a hopeful freshman, I attended Hofstra University.  I was going to double major in film and philosophy (after which I would become an ethicist and independent filmmaker), but the tuition freaked me out and the education level was reminiscent of my high school’s.  Granted, I went to an awesome high school, but college should be a step up, regardless.  My philosophy and math classes were especially bad and my religion class was hands down the easiest I’ve ever taken anywhere (although that professor was also one of the nicest I’ve ever had.)  My English and Latin professors were superb, but two out of five classes that meet expectations (is it wrong to have high expectations?) do not warrant the excessive pricetag.

Then, in the middle of a quasi- life panic-attack/depression I did what I said I never would and I went to the family school.  My mother, father, brother and sisters all attend(ed) North Park and I had no intention of doing the same, but sometimes when you’re under duress it’s easy to let people make decisions for you.  North Park is a good school.  I had some great teachers and took some interesting classes while I was there.  I would never go back.

I have recently decided that I might want to be a professor at a community college.  (Yes, Grantley, you thought I was joking, but I wasn’t.)  I was consistently impressed with the caliber of my teachers at Inver Hills, and, as a general rule I found that professors at my community college were more interested in creating and maintaining relationships with their students (Dluger [NPU] and Fichtelberg [Hofstra], you are exceptions to this rule as I found both of you to be extraordinarily, impressively invested in your students).

Honestly, I had really negative connotations regarding community colleges before I started, and I am still unnecessarily defensive about my education at Inver Hills (“I just wanted to finish really quickly”, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I wanted to get an AA under my belt.” etc., etc.), but in reality it was probably my best year of school.  I was very involved (theater, outdoors club, art club, and more) and I was positively challenged in most of my classes.  I would like to be a part of the education system that doesn’t get the respect that it deserves and continue providing students the opportunity to learn in a challenging environment even if they don’t have the resources that people who can attend a typical university for all four years do.

Now I am slotted to go to Shimer.  First, I should say that I am outrageously excited about this program.  It is a great books school, which means that our curriculum is centered around classic texts that scholars (and people in general) claim continue to be relevant, challenging and informative throughout history.  Classes are small and discussion oriented.  We meet around tables instead of in lecture halls.  And, wonderfully, although centered on the progression of Western thought (we do live in the United States, which is a part of the Western world, after all), Shimer seems to do a decent job of representing minorities in their curriculum, so we are not a Dead White Male focused school.  We study Flannery O’Connor, W.E.B. Dubois and others.

School is going to be awesome.

The problem that we have is this:

Or…more accurately, the fact that I don’t have that.

I was looking over my financial aid package today and despite Shimer’s generosity I am still screwed for coming up with tuition.  I will rack up $19,500 in loans over the three years I go there (it would be $6,500 less if they had maintained their initial claim that I only need to attend for two years) and, on top of that, I need to muster up $16,000 per year after financial aid.  That is $48,000 of upfront costs in three years.  Altogether (loans and immediate cost) I need to come up with $67,500.  This does not include books or living expenses.

I spent a lot of time looking and applying for scholarships today, but even when using fastweb and zinch I did not discover the overwhelming scholarship opportunities people say are out there.  A lot of the scholarships are oddly specialized (must be a member of the llama club?) and a lot are seasonal or scammy.  I don’t get how people do it.  Scholarships seem to average at $1,000…according to my calculations above that means that I would have to apply for and win SIXTY EIGHT scholarships.  While attending school.  And presumably working a job or two.  And not, evidently, having a social life.

Is a piece of paper and boxy hat really worth that much money?

I mean look at them.  They’re pathetic.

The problem is that now that now that I think I know what I want to do I also know that I need the education.  Becoming an educator mandates higher education, so any wiggle room that I used to have has been obliterated.  Still, I am putting $67,500 that I don’t have into a future that is not guaranteed.   I want to study Shimer’s reading list on my own and then Sparknotes the hell out of their curriculum and read other related commentaries if need be.  But the truth is that I think discussion and community, especially the kind that I’ll find at Shimer, are important.

I believe in the program that Shimer offers; I couldn’t justify a fraction of Shimer’s cost at another school, but because I believe so strongly in their program I have to do it.  It scares me because I hate debt, and dollar amounts that I cannot wrap my tiny middle-class brain around freak me out.  I have no idea how I will pay off the next three years.  I have no idea if I will be able to scrounge together the finances that I need to go on and get the Master’s degrees I want (religious studies, philosophy and/or literature, in case you were wondering).

This is me biting the bullet.

3 Years Worth of Future

I am not a long term planner.

This has not always been true.

Ever since I traveled the North American West coast three years ago my life has changed significantly, mostly because the way I make decisions changed.  I was an over-planner pre-trip: I wanted explicit instructions as to where my destination was and what activities were available and who would be there and what the dress code was and what you had to pay to get in…the list, obviously, goes on.  If I didn’t get all of those details and more I got worried.

Then one day I realized that I had no idea where I was going to sleep that night.  My heart did a mini back flip and then a front flip, followed by a very nice face plant, but my heart wasn’t doing acrobats out of fear…it was elation.  The pages of my yellow legal pad slowly turned blue as I filled them with excited scribbles about not knowing where I would sleep that night and speculations about the seemingly distant possibilities.  I could sleep outside.  I could find a hostel.  I could not sleep at all.  I could find a beach or sleep under a bridge.  What should I do?  Where should I go?

I think I wound up in a hostel that night, but the end of that story is not the important part.   The important part was the rush of not-knowing.  Uncertainty about what is just around the riverbend is what keeps a person on her toes and invested in life in such a way that pumps the essence of life into her veins and slows down every moment even while making the seconds tick by with alarming speed.

That is an epiphany worth having.  That is an epiphany worth remembering.

So.

With that in mind it is rough for me to realize that the next three years of my life are pretty well planned already.  Three years is a long ass time.

I am resuming my education at a tiny liberal arts school called Shimer this fall.  There will be no tests at my school.  We write a lot and classes are discussions based and happen around circular tables instead of in lecture halls.  Class sizes average 9 students.  The curriculum is composed of great books, not text books, so we read a lot of philosophy and even when we’re doing math or science we learn from the originals, not watered down nobodies who reinterpret what Einstein or Schrodinger discovered.  Credit where credit’s due.

Shimer also has a study abroad program linked with one, and only one other school:

Yeah.  That would be an awesome way to spend my second year of Shimeresque education.

And then I would have to spend another year in Chicago.  Lamesauce.

I do have an idea, though, to minimize living expenses and maximize variety.  What would happen if I house sat instead of rented?  What if I was able to find people who were gone one or two months at a time and was able to constantly live in different parts of Chicago instead of picking one decent apartment and living in one boring (or cool, same difference with the passage of time) place for an entire year?

I really enjoy house sitting regardless (especially when it involves PETS!) and it would be such an awesome way to become familiar with a really cool city in a unique and varied way.  I could live on the north side one month and downtown for the next two, only to move to Chinatown for a week, after which I would spend another three by the lake.  There would truly be nothing more invigorating than constantly moving from place to place, not to mention all of the interesting (and, again, different, because I would be in so many different places!) people that I would presumably meet.

Already, I have registered on a couple house-sitting websites, but I get the impression that most house-sitting happens between people who know each other because posting are few and far between, even for big cities like Chicago.  I’ve gotten all of my house sitting jobs through people I know here in MN, anyway.  It’s just easier to know that you are trusting your home with someone that you know and trust.  Or, at the very least, someone that someone you know knows and trusts.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.  Never was there a truer truism.

Hopefully it will work out, though.  It would also help me maintain that minimalist living thing that I’m giving a shot.  Maybe I could live out of one backpack for an entire school year!  It would be like hitchhiking all over again!


 That bag was all I needed for three months on the road then…so why not now, too?  🙂

Leaving tonight!

Today is my last day stateside.  I got to start off an overseas trip with a roadtrip with two of my cousins and my aunt, which was enormously enjoyable, and maybe a little bit raucous (in a good way).  I also got to see a few good friends (including my godmother!) in Chicago and will see a few more before today ends, which is the perfect way to start off a trip that will be brimming with strangers. 

In approximately 23 hours I will be boarding a plane for Abu Dhabi, where I will wander around the airport, wishing I could go outside, until two hours have passed and I board the plane to Bombai.  After that…your guess is as good as mine. 

The three-months long trip begins with a convent in Pune (poo-nay, according to the travel buddy I met last night…I knew pyoon sounded wrong) and will finish in the slums of DehraDun.  I am not sure of the details, so I will not waste your time with conjecture.  What I do know is that the goal is discipleship, which I think means intense Christian community among program participants (all of us coming from different countries and backgrounds), accompanied by a certain degree of Christian education a concentrated effort to be involved in the surrounding community in a proactive, helpful, hopefully sustainable way. 

That was definitely conjecture. 

I want to tell you how I feel about going to India, because that it the most common question friends and family have asked recently, but the truth is I am not sure. 

Mostly I am tired.  For the past several nights I have slept only a little.  What with late nights with good friends, last minute packing (one backpack and one carryon…can I get a booyah?) and sisterly sleepovers I have simply not slept very much.  There will be time to catch up on sleeping on the plane, I suppose.  I figure I will be jet lagged anyway, so why not be tired to boot?

I am not sure what internet access will be like in India, but I will try to update as frequently as possible.  As soon as I am there I promise the conjecture will cease.  There shall be no more guesstimating itineraries and goals…hopefully…

Running With Scissors

Tonight I watched Running With Scissors.

Watching movies seems to be very bad for me. Whenever I sit down (actually usually I lie down and curl into the ever popular fetal position, with my hood up and a blanket on) to watch a movie, I have this tendency to cut myself off from everything else.  There were a few phone calls I was supposed to make and receive tonight, but I turned my phone off, planning to say that it mysteriously died on me.  My sister asked if I wanted to play basketball with her, which I responded to with a mumbled invitation to watch my movie with me.  I had quite a few errands I should have been running.  There were lists I could have been writing, along with letters and stories and journal entries and emails.  In short, there was a lot of stuff that I completely ignored tonight because I wanted to cuddle into the darkness of the downstairs of my house and watch a movie.  Television, radio, books, you name it…nothing else quite encourages my anti-social side to come out and play quite like a good piece of cinema does.

Let’s talk about the movie, shall we?

Running with Scissors truly impressed me.  It is sad and funny and it is horrible because it is true.  The story follows a young boy, Augusten, as he grows up in less than usual circumstances.  His mother is a bit eccentric to begin with,  but declines into what can really only be classified as madness at the hands of her not-very-capable-due-to-his-own-frightening-peculiarities psychiatrist.

Although the story follows Augusten most closely, the story is actually about the psychiatrist; the puppet master, the behind the scenes string puller…the man who is responsible for every ounce of crazy in the movie.  He has three children (all adopted?) to which he adds Augusten halfway through the film.  None of his kids are quite right in their minds, and his wife is just odd enough that she is okay with munching on dog kibble while watching old horror movies.  The story is about influence and how everything a person does impacts (for good and ill) the people around them.  “The Doctor”, as his wife always called him, ruined at least five lives due to his unorthodox approach to the mentally ill (for example, handing out medicine like it was candy), and probably drove others into the ground as well.

The movie  was about unraveling:  It showed  people losing their hold on relationships and self.  It should have been painful to watch, but there was just enough whimsy that I could and probably would watch it again.

It is a story that offers hope.  Whereas other similar stories are only dark, this one offers a glimmer of sunshine.  The author of this book recovered and grew into a functional adult.  He was able to recount his childhood in a humorous way, because he made it through the tough times and became the person he is today because of it.  Running With Scissors asks us to believe that no matter what we go through, no matter what obstacles life erects on our paths, it is possible to overcome them.

The end of the movie made me contemplate that all too prevalent and unanswerable question of mine…what do I want to do with my life?  Where is my passion?  Could I please, please, please just put on a backpack full of clothes and start somewhere new?  I do not think I am quite capable enough to just walk into a sunset, but…

The problem is that in order to pick up and move, a person needs to have a passion or a driving force behind them to guide their journey and I am not sure that I have one.  There are many things I like, but I do not remember the last time I loved something.  I could not even tell you what I have loved, because I do not remember what it felt like to care passionately about a part of life.

I can’t write any more.  My Mum came downstairs to watch television and it’s killing my focus.  Agh.