Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 in Review and Goals for 2016

[insert sentimental introductory paragraph here]

I figured, both for the purpose of getting things straight in my head and for accountability, it would be worthwhile to compile a list of noteworthy milestones, lessons learned and all that good stuff from this past year and append a short list of broad resolutions for the coming year, because I'm a white girl and we do stuff like that. So, without further ado, here's a tenuously categorized litany of 2015 and all it wrought:

Home and Household:
Obviously, the big thing this year was succeeding in purchasing property, but it was big in more ways than one. The mortgage application process alone was invaluable in teaching me how to accept and ask for help and also showing me that rejection and uncertainty need not spell ruin and a shameful march back home to be a spinster with one's mother. Setting up my own place has done wonders for me; even the delusion that I am capable of being an independent adult makes me better at actually becoming one, to the point where I will get a rush from knowing my bills are paid early and performing big maintenance tasks. I now have something tangible to channel effort into and take pride in, and this little '70s foreclosure condo has proven the most supportive environment to personal growth I've ever found myself in.

On a micro level, household management has become my art medium. I revel in isolating specific things, such as cabinet organization, diet and decorating, and optimizing them through research, trial and error. There's no one around to please but myself, so I can tinker and tweak to my heart's content. I like to think at least some of my experiments have been fruitful and practical, but they're mostly just fun for me.

Once again, I'm going to attribute improvements in the arena to living alone. It's a lot easier to avoid getting peopled out when you have a sanctuary of solitude, and I'm slowly getting better at making social commitments and suppressing the urge to flake out. I was concerned briefly that I would relish solitude to the point of becoming an actual recluse, but my social life is the best it's been since college. Since I'm less dependent on people than ever before, I have put a big dent in my people pleasing reflex. I'm getting better about cultivating deeper relationships with people I actually like and letting go of ones that feel like a chore. I'm now involved in two small hobby groups (modeling and D&D) that meet routinely, and I'm finding I look forward to these get-togethers. I've been entertaining a bit more now that I have the space and wherewithal and find that I enjoy spoiling my friends, on my terms. Haven't had to break anyone's kneecaps yet -- they keep coming back.

Family relationships have also improved -- living apart, I believe, has helped us to see each other as friends with an extensive shared history, and family gatherings are becoming something to look forward to. We razz each other to the point of appalling the people around us, but it's like our secret affection handshake.

Work and Money
I'm blessed to have been able to support myself entirely from my remote editing work and actually had a pretty flush year. I'm finding that work makes me feel safe, like I'm investing in the security of a financial buffer by prioritizing it. I got positive feedback that made me feel valued even as a contractor, and I feel like, if this gig collapsed, I could make valuable contributions elsewhere.

I've been pretty good, actually, at keeping on top of my bills. I've yet to get a good budget in place, but that will be a priority in the new year. Even without it, and with being less frugal than I could be (friggin' Amazon), I believe myself at a visceral level to be more or less on top of my finances.

Apart from slacking big time on exercise, which is nothing new, I think I did a pretty good job of taking care of myself. Finally kicked a prolonged ailment, through great trial and tribulation, and have been good about buying progressively healthier groceries. I've identified a number of fixes I could make and implemented many of them, and realize there's still more I could do. I'd say I'm going a little bit granola, but I still can't stomach the stuff.

As for resolutions . . .

Home and Household
This year, I really want to pursue self-sufficiency in any way I can. I made big steps in waste reduction in the last six months (e.g. learning how to recycle, switching to reusable menstrual products and using cloth over paper towels), but I'd like to take paper reduction further by making and using cloth hankies and giving family cloths a try. I intend to get a small worm compost system going to minimize organic waste as well. Further, I want to really maximize what little garden space I have and use it to produce food, perhaps even taking it so far as investing in a grow light and getting stuff going inside. I've already started experimenting in making my own cleaning implements and body products, with the goal being to use up commercial products and replace them with homemade ones as I run out. The primary goal is to make or learn how to make rather than to buy. Livestock isn't an option right now, so I can't be fully self sufficient, but I have every intention of cultivating these skills while I have the luxury so that I'm prepared if and when they become a necessity.

In addition to the more domestic end of things, I want to get better at doing the hard stuff. I want to cultivate at least a working knowledge of how to troubleshoot plumbing and auto issues, how to build and mount heavier household fixtures as well as how to shoot. If you've read any of my gender politics stuff, you know I firmly believe no one is entitled to anything from anyone, and I'd like to walk the walk by learning how to do the things I'd otherwise ask men in my life to help with. Again, self-sufficiency.

I've got a pretty good thing going with my present social circle, so I'd like to cultivate my existing relationships. I'd like to entertain more frequently and with less fanfare, so that it's less of a contrived production for everyone. In finding that bigger, scarier social functions are usually at least tolerable when I get up the nerve to attend, I'd like to cultivate a strategy to talk myself down from flaking out at the last minute or learn not to commit as a reflex. Above all, I want to get better about giving and receiving without overthinking it. I want to be freer with expressions of affection and appreciation and not freak the hell out when I receive them.

Work and Money
Budget, budget, budget. Since I don't have the security of a predictable income and benefits, I want to really focus on building my savings, getting ahead on my mortgage, staying out of debt and getting my spending under control. Amazon and organic food get expensive very fast, so I'd like to have a concrete amount to spend on these items and find strategic ways, e.g. couponing and waiting for sales, so that I don't exceed the allotted amount.

As for work, I want to diversify my avenues of income. If I can, I'll try to pick up more online gigs to fall back on, or I'll apply somewhere concrete if that's not feasible. I also intend to get my resume out there in the off chance freelance work becomes available. I've become my social circle's go-to grammar nazi, and it's time to capitalize on that. In the near term, I want to focus on time management and develop a productive routine that minimizes distractions from burnout. I've realized I've been afraid for a long time of flying too close to the sun with my income, but I feel like if I build myself a safety net, reaching higher will be easier.

The biggest thing here is developing a routine of regular maintenance, even when I'm not going anywhere or seeing anyone. This means proper grooming, even if I stay in my pajamas. I'm doing pretty good with diet, but I could do better. I use entertaining as an excuse to overindulge and eat terribly, so I'd like to find healthier things I can serve my friends. I live literally right outside a public park, so I'd like to schedule time outside for exercise and Vitamin D, perhaps justifying it as foraging. I also need to get back into regular yoga, since I live very close to my studio now and it's a shared activity with my mother, who also needs it.

I'll probably add to this as I ruminate more on it, but these are the prevailing themes. Hopefully this was insightful for others too.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Brief Treatise on Gift Guilt

Obligatory attention-grabbing stock photo!

'Tis the season . . .

If you've known me for any length of time, you know I am about the least gracious gift recipient of all time. Not that I'm rude or ungrateful about it, or at least I try not to be -- I just overthink gifts and make the exchange awkward for everyone involved. When I'm the recipient, I either feel wildly unworthy of this great gift I love or horrible if I don't end up liking or using it. As a giver, I assume I'm burdening the recipient with clutter and guilt.

Gift exchanges just do not make sense to me, especially when they're prescribed. Don't get me wrong -- there are few better feelings than coming across something, thinking "So-and-so would love that," and seeing So-and-so genuinely delighted to receive it. This does happen, but I'd argue it's the exception and not the rule. How often do we scrimp and save hundreds of dollars for birthday and Christmas gifts because we have to, only to pick up something vaguely pertinent and present it to the recipient because we have to, only to have them fake a smile and stash the gift somewhere out of sight because they have to? What part of this makes anyone feel good?

I know a number of people who dread the holiday season because of the socially prescribed level of planning, commitment and investment involved, and I don't blame them. You're either in the Christmas spirit or you're a Scrooge, Grinch, etc. There's little recourse for folks who just want to spend time with friends and family without the burden of investment -- no one wants to be the only guy who didn't bring presents, nor the only one who did. There's no winner in this scenario except people who sell things that people give to other people (and bless their sorry asses for putting up with the rest of us).

This year, I'm trying to overthink this less (and clearly failing by about 500 words and counting). I'm trying to tell myself that if I can just make myself want to give gifts, it will feel less like an obligation, and if I bring gifts, I'll feel less like a schmuck for receiving gifts. Currently, my plan is to make everyone gifts. While there is a very, very large and very loud part of me that says this will backfire -- that I'm not only burdening my loved ones with storing this homemade crap they won't use, but fishing shamelessly for their validation like a kid who needs his fingerpainting mounted on the fridge -- I'm trying to tell myself that they will probably neither use nor like what I make them, and that that's okay. I'm not foregoing any better or more expensive gift just to make them something cheaper, so they're not missing out in that respect. What I will be giving them, and myself, is the knowledge that I put forth focused and tailored effort to make something I thought maybe they would like, and right now as I figure out how to be authentic without being a massive bitch, that's the best I can do. I can apply myself and not expect the gratification of affirmation.

As for receiving gifts, let me first say, to anyone for whom this is pertinent: I am seriously perfectly content without gifts. I will feel like much less of a shitty human being if you leave me off your list, so win-win for both of us. YOU DON'T OWE ME SHIT. I love you and don't want you to agonize over pleasing me. Since I know there are those who insist on gifts, thank you I guess? Enjoy your wacky potions in thrift store bottles, because I know you, as a good human, wouldn't want me to agonize either. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

As a footnote, I for one do not believe it's at all cheating to drop less than subtle hints as to what kinds of gifts you'd get the most use out of, with the caveat that they are not requisite to your affection or good graces. I labor under the assumption that anyone giving a gift wants the givee to like it, so why not make this easier? Wishlists, ideas and expression of voids you'd like filled (heh) all help everyone involved come out of the exchange smiling. No, the person shouldn't know you well enough to read your mind. Cut that shit out. If you want something, say so. If you don't want something, or anything, say so. If someone says so to you, do your best to respect it. This "but I HAVE to get her something/but he HAS to get me something" attitude needs to die.