Last Post of 2018!

The last year has been amazing. I had some ups and downs and made some mistakes, but it’s overall been really great. I’ve grown a lot, especially in the last half of the year.

In January I was buzzing from the excitement of a new relationship and working hard with Justine to prepare for Over the Invisible Wall’s launch. I was writing less than I wanted to, but I knew I had a deadline and obligations. I was spending a lot of time with my boyfriend, getting to know him. I found out in January that I didn’t get the big homeschool scholarship for free Praxis, but I did still get money off tuition! It was then that I moved my start date from July to October.

In February, Over the Invisible Wall launched. We decided to post twice a month because we lost half our team before December. We talked about starting the blog for a long time before jumping in. We tried to each have a couple of posts ready in advance. I had my first Valentine’s Day in a relationship. He gave me flowers and we spent the day together. I had started working on a sketchbook/scrapbook and showed him what I’d made so far.

In March, I started piecing together my poetry collection Inside a Writer’s Head. I initially called it Writing About Writing: Inside a Writer’s Head, but I decided later that just the second part would be a better title.

In April, I honestly don’t remember what I did at all. I checked in my journal, but I only wrote once and it was unhelpful.

In May, I joined my first Praxis Wednesday call. It was a chat with Rob Goodman about the Claude Shannon biography he co-authored. I was inspired and felt like I was on fire after that call.

In June, I committed to starting my personal blog in July. I wanted to take a month to prepare and have content ready. I didn’t want to stress myself out. I planned to ease myself into it.

In July, I turned eighteen! I spent my birthday with my boyfriend, and we watched Harry Potter and tried making butterbeer. I started my blog at the beginning of the month. I initially planned to post once a week and increase that until I was writing everyday. I changed my mind the next day and decided to jump in and write every day for as long as possible. I wrote from July 2-30. I was looking forward to starting Praxis, and was eager for it to start. More than before, because I knew I had barely any more waiting to go. I contributed a short historical piece to the Millstadt News magazine.

In August, I started the Praxis pre-program. I had some specific tasks and projects to do before I’d start in October. I continued my blog and Over the Invisible Wall, struggling to find a balance. I took a trip out to Millstadt to interview Terry Davinroy and his sister Sherry for another short historical piece for the Millstadt News. I learned a lot about journalism and making research writing trips. I really enjoyed looking into history and getting first hand information about it, too. My family took a belated birthday trip to Myrtle Beach, SC. We’d planned to go in July, but there was a conflict with Walmart that prevented it. I actually quit Panera to work full-time at Walmart.

In September, I posted more infrequently on the blog. I didn’t keep up with daily blogging for more than a couple days at a time. I struggled with some of the Praxis work, mostly feeling unclear directionally. I gave myself a break on vacation, and it made it harder to finish on time. I felt more stress than necessary.

In October, I realized I was very sick of Walmart, so I went back to Panera late in the month. I officially started Praxis! Module one was both easier and harder than I’d expected. Revising my pre-program deliverables was fairly easy, since I had some idea what needed improvement and what was lacking. The third week, we made pitch videos, and that was the hardest part. I struggled with it, but made something I’m at least mostly proud of. I need to watch it again, see if I should re-make it. I learned that I enjoyed filming and editing video, though, and started my Youtube channel this month as a result. Early on, I talked to the module advisor Hannah Frankman about the next module, the portfolio project. I wanted to make and market my poetry collection, she said I should make it before November and focus on marketing it. Brian Nuckols and Austin Batchelor confirmed, so I worked really hard to finish my module one deliverables and publish my poetry collection. I didn’t think I could do it, but I blew myself out of the water by finishing early!

In November, my poetry collection released! I spent the month posting on social media about the collection, doing my best to draw attention to it. I blogged every day as well, tying that into my project. Each week I wrote one to two posts about self-publishing generally or poetry collections specifically. The videos I made for my Youtube channel were on the same topic. I did a lot and pushed myself. I wasn’t able to run Facebook or Twitter ads because I couldn’t afford it, but I posted every day, started a giveaway, and shared the link to the Bookbaby sale page as soon as I had it up. I also voted for the first time ever! I felt involved in the 2016 elections, but this was the first year I was able to vote.

This month, December, has been really crazy. I expected the writing module to be a breeze, but it was really difficult at some points. I struggled with motivation a lot this month. I was frequently tired from working mornings and pushing myself to stay up long enough to accomplish everything else I wanted and needed to do. I accomplished a lot, but there were definitely times I could have done more if I’d been better rested and generally felt better. I made videos a few times this month, but I had fewer ideas for content and felt disinterested in video making. At least once I actually dreaded making it. I still did, but it felt like a chore. I had my one year anniversary with my boyfriend this month and we spent our first Christmas together! We started dating before Christmas last year, but it was so soon that a gift seemed a bit too couple-y. This year we’d been together, had Valentine’s Day and our birthdays together, so it was nice to have Christmas and come full circle.

I’ve had a crazy year, but it’s been really great. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds!

Focusing on Projects

I can be very easily distracted. But I can also sit and write for hours without realizing.

I start the day with a list of activities I need to do. I set out exactly what I plan to accomplish with the day at the beginning so I know how to spend my time. The specific amounts of time on each task isn’t important, it’s crossing each item off the list by the end of the day.

I keep a glass of water at my desk. I take care of my physical needs, then I get to work. I think only of the writing.

I sit down to write my blog post and I think. Even when I have an idea, I take a moment to think about it before writing anything. I don’t jump in immediately.

I stare at the blank page, let it stare back at me before writing words. They don’t have to be the right words, they don’t have to be organized, they just need to get on the page. I can fix them later.

I can’t go from blank page to masterpiece if I never start writing.

At first, I have to force myself to write. I force out a few sentences before I get into the flow. I have to get in the “zone,” that place of mental concentration if I want to build momentum. For a blog post draft, I might need only about thirty minutes.

Once I cut out distractions, I get to writing. I put one word after another, and keep going. I think about what comes next and the overall message. I pour out words until I reach the conclusion. I don’t look at the clock to see how long it took. I work to silence and the clacking of my keyboard or the scratch of my pen on paper.

I try to write as long as I can without a break. Sometimes that means staring at the page trying to find the words.

For a longer project I work as long as I can, then take a short break. If I can’t finish that in one go that’s fine. What matters is I put in the work and got in the zone.

I cut the distractions I can control. I make sure I’m awake and need nothing. I stare at the tauntingly blank page, then force myself to write until I’m not forcing it. My thoughts hone in on the the work and topic at hand. The words start to flow and I get in the zone. I make it last as long as possible or as long as needed.

Then I take a break and come back to do it again.

Newly Vegetarian: My First Week

For the last week, I haven’t eaten meat. The last time I had meat was for lunch on Monday December 3rd.

I decided to stop eating meat while writing An Informal Discussion of the Ethics of Eating Meat for Over the Invisible Wall. My research included an article about fish and fishing and a video of a vegan’s thought-provoking speech on eating meat. I did more research on the meat industry.

Monday night and Tuesday I hadn’t fully committed. I thought I would try it or eat a lot less meat. I was eating vegetarian, but thought I would eat meat Wednesday night. I managed to abstain from meat, including bacon. Bacon was the biggest temptation. My grandma offered me bacon on Monday and my parents made bacon on Tuesday. I almost caved. Almost.

Wednesday I thought I’d have a small amount of meat for dinner. I was ready to commit to eating significantly less meat, but was still debating if I’d have any meat. That night I found I didn’t want to eat the chicken. That surprised me. I’d expected it to take longer for me to be disinterested in meat. I was definitely not disinterested in the leftover bacon in the fridge, but I didn’t want the chicken I’d made.

Thursday was harder than anticipated. It was my first day back at work since I’d stopped eating meat. I thought Panera would be easy because there’s a lot of various options. How wrong I was! While making people’s food, I remembered how much I love the chipotle chicken avocado melt and the Cuban panini… and bacon. I was reminded of my love for bacon countless times. I told myself, “Bacon is the enemy,” and laughed at myself for that. I also realized only two of the soups are vegetarian and I don’t really like one of them. I still managed to not order anything with meat.

Friday was the best of the first four days. I had fewer problems with feeling hungry and had an easier time abstaining from meat. I talked with Julianna Carbonare, a member of my Praxis cohort who has been vegetarian and vegan, about my problem with hunger. She suggested that I need more protein, so I made an effort to increase my protein intake. I had eggs twice, for breakfast and lunch. I discovered that the green passion smoothie at Panera is fantastic with basil.

Saturday I had thought out what I’d eat ahead of time. I learned that Culver’s, a burger place, surprisingly has a vegetarian soup and a few salads. At this point, it was already getting easier and feeling more natural to not eat meat. I did not want it, and only craved bacon a few times while at work. I had a better understanding of how much I needed to eat throughout the day to not feel ravenously hungry.

By the end of the week (only a week!) it felt natural. I never thought I would ever be vegetarian, but now I am.

Throughout the week I talked a lot with my friend Justine about food and eating vegetarian. She shared the information she had and suggested some food ideas. At her recommendation, I bought a few vegetarian canned soups from the brand Amy’s. I picked out some other soups while browsing. I made overnight oats Friday night and they lasted through Monday morning. I made protein “cookies” for a portable, filling snack early in the week. That first batch had a grainy texture that didn’t feel like a cookie, but the taste was good. I made another batch Monday morning before work. I didn’t follow a recipe or write down how I made them, just combined ingredients based on my knowledge of baking in general and cookies more specifically. They turned out better this time, but they were a bit crispier than I intended.

I’ve had to be more conscious of what I’m eating and putting in my body. I pay attention to foods that contain protein, because that helps stave off hunger between meals. I did some research to make this easier and now have a list of 36 plants or plant based foods that contain protein.

It’s been difficult starting out, but I feel good about what I’m eating and that I’m not harming animals.

Recap(ish): How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You)

This is more a reflection inspired by this post from Wait But Why that gave the name to this blog post you’re reading now. It’s really long, but I recommend you read it if you haven’t and do your own reflection.

I’ve wanted to write for at least five years now, maybe even closer to seven. The quality and quantity of my writing was drastically different (see Deleted Drafts: The Etaloniy Story for a prime example of this). But I knew I wanted to write. Initially it was a vague, general desire to write and publish books. I only kind of knew what that meant, and didn’t know what that looked like.

As I grew, physically, mentally, and in this desire to write, I developed strong convictions about making money by making art. In traditional publishing, the author makes royalties from sales, but the publishing house makes a lot of money too. The author probably makes a certain dollar amount from each book sale. It’s also crazy hard to get into traditional publishing. You have to find someone who connects with your story and can see it making them money.

That’s not what I wanted. I felt very strongly that if I were going to put in the hard work to write a book (or other sellable writing) that I wanted to make the money from my efforts if there were any money to be had from them. It would be my intellectual property being sold, it belongs to me, therefore I should benefit from sales. Also, creative control over my work is important to me. The cover image and all the contents. I don’t want to cut or add scenes I don’t want in order to get published.

This lead to the conclusion that I would self-publish. Even if I sell fewer books as a result, even if I don’t become as widely known, I care about my writing being mine more.

I have such a compulsion to write, even if it doesn’t become my career. I will keep doing it. I want to make it my career, at least partially, if I can. To do that, I joined a freelance site, opened commissions, and next month I’m publishing a poetry collection.

How I Work

Location: St. Louis metropolitan area

Current gig: Crafts or Toys associate at Walmart, blogging here and at Over the Invisible Wall

Current mobile device: iPhone 6s

Current computer: I’m not sure, but I run Ubuntu 18.04 “Bionic Beaver”

One word that best describes how you work: Prioritization

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Google Drive, notebooks and pens or pencils, Gmail, Facebook messenger, my phone calendar with notifications

What’s your workspace like?

Messy. Clutter tends to pile up as I prioritize my work for Praxis, blogging, and other projects over putting away the binder I got out two days ago and finding a more permanent place to store some other things.

What’s your best time-saving trick?

Write down what is done and the next step before switching to a different task.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

My notebook and gel pens. I also have calendar notifications for hard and fast obligations for the day. I made a larger list of ongoing to-dos in a Google doc which I’m still refining.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

Probably my fitness tracker, headphones, and webcam. If non-electronics count as well, my notebooks and pens.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

Creative problem solving, thinking outside the “box” to find or make a solution that may be unconventional when the conventional solution is not possible or available.

What are you currently reading?

Niche Down by Christopher Lochhead and Heather Clancy. Other books I’m in the middle of: Eldest by Christopher Paolini, The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller, The Last Safe Investment by Bryan Franklin and Michael Ellsburg, and How Could a Loving God…? by Ken Ham. There are probably others that I started reading and forgot about.

What do you listen to while you work?

I mostly don’t listen to anything while working because I find it distracts me more than it helps me focus. I probably just haven’t found the right kind of music for that, but I prefer songs with lyrics most of the time. I might try making a playlist of instrumental songs and listening to it while working to see if it is distracting or not.

I would welcome any suggestions for instrumental work music, leave your recommendations in the comments and I can make a follow-up post reviewing my experience listening to them while working.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

I like to spend a lot of time alone and working on projects in my own space. I like spending time with people, but I get drained by long periods of in-person interaction even when I’m having a really good time and want to be socializing.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I stay up late and get up late, except when I have to get up early for a shift at my job. I tend to be up past midnight and get up around 9 am if the money making is in the afternoon.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

The quickest way to improve at anything is to work at it every day, even just a little bit.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I consider how I make money work, my projects work, Praxis obligations work, etc. Anything I’m not doing “just for fun” is work. That doesn’t mean it’s unenjoyable or not fun, though. I spend the mornings before my shifts at Walmart working on my blog, Over the Invisible Wall, other projects, or stuff for Praxis. It’s work, but it’s fulfilling and satisfying rather than tiring and draining.

My Top Three Skills

I’ve cultivated various skills over the years from instruments to foreign languages to needlework to visual art. There are three skills, though, that are valuable and that I’ve worked hard to improve over the last year especially. These are my top three skills.

 

Writing

I am primarily a self-taught writer. In elementary school we had writing assignments, but then from sixth to tenth grade I was homeschooled and my mom isn’t a writer. Before I started dual-enrollment I had some tutoring to prepare me for writing college essays, then I was on my own again. On my own time I practiced creative writing like storytelling and poetry. I’ve improved with practice and by seeking out free online resources about my craft. In February my friend Justine and I launched the bimonthly blog Over the Invisible Wall and in July I started this blog.

 

Customer Service

When I began working at Walmart, I discovered a passion for helping customers find what they need and have the best shopping experience possible. It can be difficult to remain calm and collected with customers who are rude, but I do my best to smile, apologize for any trouble they’ve had while shopping, and improve the rest of their experience. The people who are kind and genuinely appreciative of my help make the frustration of difficult customers more than worth it.

For example, I recently had a customer ask my advice on spray paints for a project she was working on. I didn’t know a lot about our different spray paint products, but I read over the packages’ description of the product and asked questions about the project. I walked from Crafts over to Hardware to show her more options and help her find the very best option. I used information I had along with details she shared with me to give suggestions and improve her shopping experience and hopefully her project as well.

 

Initiative

I do my best to pay attention to what is being done versus what needs done and take it upon myself to complete the task. At Walmart, I’ve picked up the slack in my department that has come from being short staffed. We’re behind and need to work topstock, so I’ve made sure to spend some time during each of my shifts on that. I’m currently the only one who knows how to make fabric remnants, and I’ve cleared out the space under the table that was crammed full of them. Additionally, if I hear customer service paged several times to a department I have experience in, I’ll walk over to find the customer and help them to the best of my abilities. No matter where I’m at or what I’m doing, the customer comes first, and if the associate in that department won’t help them, I will.

The Five People Experiment

You’ve almost certainly heard that you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. I was encouraged to think about five traits I want to develop in my life and compare it to traits that define the five people I spend the most time with.

Five traits I want to cultivate:

  1. Productive
  2. Focused
  3. Consistent
  4. Confident
  5. Healthy (in a general sense, both mentally and physically)

 

The five people I spend the most time with and one trait that defines them:

  1. My boyfriend, funny
  2. Justine, productive
  3. Jake, creative
  4. Dad, focused
  5. Mom, selfless

 

There is some overlap in the lists. I don’t only desire improvement in the five areas in my list, those are just the top five now. Humor, creativy, and selflessness are also important to me, so I can appreciate that they can be part of my main circle and influence me.

I’ll be spending more time with people in the Praxis community in the coming months, cultivating relationships with them and working with them as we move towards similar goals. This will help and encourage me in the traits I’m working on.