read it: a witch’s guide to escape

I was making the usual rounds through the spec fic magazines that I read and came across the story A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow in Apex Magazine. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the title made me think of Ursula Vernon’s (T. Kingfisher) no-nonsense gardening witches and evoked memories of Patricia C. Wrede and her practical heroines.

And, you guys, I totally didn’t expect it but this story brought me to the edge of tears from the degree of resonance I felt. The depiction of reading and the importance of books, the role of librarians and libraries – these things made me feel and remember (strongly enough that italics were warranted) aspects of my childhood that I hadn’t reflected on in a long time.

The story itself is beautifully written and told using card catalog numbers as a great little framing device. The idea of librarians as a secret coven of witches whose role is to make sure you have the right book at the right time made me think of all the best teachers I have had the fortune of learning from. There are book references and little pop culture jokes peppered throughout in the most unobtrusive way possible. It all flows together so nicely.

So nicely in fact that after I read it the once, I immediately read it again to just recapture the feeling of being lost in the stacks, sitting on the floor between aisles and reading for hours – to escape, to find something that I couldn’t articulate, to live. I want to imprint this story in my brain so that I can refer to it when I’m craving connection and understanding, so that I can remind myself that the magic of books is real and has touched other people too.

I’m still a jumble of feelings about it; there are things I want to examine as to why I felt so much when I read it. But in the meantime, you should definitely check the story out.

currently reading

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Is that enough books to be reading at one time? (On my Kindle, I’m also reading The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin, which is book three of the Broken Earth trilogy – it’s riveting.)

It’s a good mix of intake (and all books I already owned – I’m still doing the no new books thing) – novel, short story collection, some writing improvement and some writing philosophy, and then a couple tomes on mindfulness and self-acceptance.

What are you guys reading?

2017 year in books

Following in the footsteps of Book Punks, a book blog I absolutely love, I’ve decided to start tracking some reading stats. Nikki’s reading round-ups are always hilarious, and the stuff she tracks about her reading is interesting. Those posts also have a tendency to balloon my TBR list, but that’s a problem that can’t really be helped – so many books, so little time.

I did the Goodreads Reading Challenge and set a goal of 40 books, and did…well. I’ll be shooting for 50 this year.

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I got my 2017 stats from the books that I logged on Goodreads.

– Total read: 68 (Goal: 40)
– Men/women (author gender): 14/54 (about a 20/80% split)
– POC authors: 10 (some multiples in there)
– Nonfiction/fiction: 22/46
– Owned/Bought: 12/56
– Ebooks: 53 (surprising since I usually like reading analog more)
– Re-reads: 1 (that I can remember – I tend to not track these on Goodreads)

There were a handful of books (I want to say around 10) that I read that I didn’t log for one reason or another, and I don’t want to go back and figure that out. So… I’m not going to. In the future, I’d like to track some other things like maybe minority representation in the books that I’ve read. But I haven’t totally settled on what to look at. Anyone have any suggestions?

I also started to do the calculation of how many books, both analog and digital, I bought this year and… it was embarrassing. It was even more embarrassing when I then looked at how many books I read of the ones I bought this year. I’m cringing just thinking about it.

I really like buying books. I like being surrounded by them. I like having lots of options to choose from when I’m deciding what to read next (at least, I think I like that… I might arguably do better with fewer options, but that’s something to think about at a later time).

But at some point, I got into this bad habit of buying books for my TBR list instead of just compiling my TBR list. I also basically forgot about the existence of libraries (I have excuses lined up as to why I forgot, but they’re really neither here nor there), even though a library used to be one of my favorite places growing up and through college.

Then this post showed up in my feed. This very timely post about killing your tbr. And I thought, YES I WANT TO DO THAT. So that’s my plan.

My goal is to drastically limit how many books I buy. And anytime I want to buy a book, I have to read 12 books that I own.

Oh, and I’m going to get a library card. Because what am I even doing.

next year’s words await

I’ve started viewing resolutions differently than I did before. I used to conflate resolutions with goals and treat them the same, but I think that having a distinction between the two is helpful.

A resolution is a decision, a firmness of resolve. A goal is something discrete that you aim at and that you can break down into smaller chunks of progress.

This year, my resolutions are things that I think will move me more towards the person that I want to be. In no particular order, here are my resolutions for 2018. (The header on the dedicated post page is a snapshot of my journal/planner spread for this – yep, I got sucked into the world of bullet journals.)

  • Resist entropy.
    • Always know why I am doing something.
    • Focus on process and refinement.
    • Keep distractions at a minimum.
  • Be healthy.
    • “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan
    • Focus on movement and feeling rather than numbers.
    • Eat with joy and savor each bite. Don’t eat to feed emotions or in avoidance.
  • Embrace kindness.
    • Learn how to treat yourself well.
    • Approach things with openness and good faith.
    • Be honest, with yourself and with others, about what you need. Trust others to respond in kind.
  • Create anyway.
    • There is no mood or muse, only the war of art. Some days will be hard.
    • It’s okay to be envious. It’s not okay to be jealous.
    • Let go of extrinsic reward. Focus on improvement.
  • Have courage.
    • Find community.
    • Don’t let fear or complacency keep you from what you want.
    • Stare into the deep. Name it. Then let it go.
  • Live joyfully.
    • Cultivate mindfulness.
    • Stop. Appreciate. Feel gratitude.
    • Own what you love without shame.

Within each resolution, I have goals that will move me closer to the state of being I want to achieve. And then I can break each of those goals into smaller steps that I can work on.

For me, I think the “resist entropy” command is going to be one of the more important things. Particularly the minimizing distractions part. In the last couple of months, some of my routines got a little sloppy and I wasted way too much time lurking on Twitter, watching YouTube videos, or just generally mindlessly looking at internet. A lot of it is about identifying a bad habit and then figuring out how to change your environment or mindset so that you can break that habit (a good framework for this is in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg).

So I’m building some disconnected time into my morning routine – no internet stuff before 2pm or so.

I’m working on being more mindful of that prickling “fear of missing out” that makes me check my phone for texts or new posts or whatever – I’m going to let myself sit with that, name it, and then let it go. I’m turning off the notifications on my phone. Rarely is something so urgent that I have to check on it immediately; most things can sit for a while until I’m ready to attend to them. I’m largely sure I’ll be okay if my phone isn’t within arm’s length all the time.

Finally, I tend to keep books around me pretty much all the time. So if I find myself mindlessly interneting and wasting time, I’ll pick up a book instead (more on my absurd TBR later).

I feel ready to move things forward, and I feel more prepared than I have before. Here’s to 2018!

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.

– T. S. Eliot

for last year’s words

A quick and dirty 2017 retrospective.

Memories
Leaving medicine was the hardest and easiest thing I’ve ever done. I did something I thought was impossible, for all the reasons that you would imagine, and changed my life. And it was literally one of the best things.
– At the end of my stint in medicine, I took a trip to Berlin. Wandered around the city by myself looking at art, sketching in my book, thinking about my life, and generally learning how to be by myself again. My mom joined a few days later, and we had an amazing time reconnecting. I think our relationship improved substantially because of it.

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– I read kind of a lot of books. (The “Year in Books” feature on Goodreads is pretty fun – got these images from there.)

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Successes
– Developed a pretty good daily framework through a series of refinements.
– Became more self-aware through a lot of (sometimes painful) self-reflection as I was trying to piece together a life.
– Made some kick-ass macarons. And generally experimented with and made a lot more food.

Completed Inktober.
Won NaNoWriMo.
Wrote the first draft of a novel!

Works in Progress
– When I’m feeling discouraged about something, I lose time to unfulfilling, distracting dopamine drips. Mostly in the forms of the Twitter and YouTube. I do this sometimes as procrastination too, particularly when I’m not sure what the next steps are. (And given that all of this is somewhat uncharted territory for me, I’m never quite sure what the next steps are.)
– I get too focused on ritual and get side-tracked from process.
– I let myself get away with fulfilling the letter instead of the spirit of a thing.
– I’m holding onto a lot of self-loathing that needs to be confronted and addressed.

Lessons

  • Holy shit, I can do things. And I can do many things well. This is something I need to remember when I’m being mean to myself again.
  • Happiness is important.
    • And it’s a privilege to be able to prioritize that right now.
  • Process is constant. And process does not equal ritual.
    • Constant re-evaluation and reflection is necessary and critical.
    • The creep of entropy is relentless.
    • Let go or keep things for the right reasons.
  • It’s easy to forget the progress you’ve made if you only look forward.
  • Shifting from extrinsic to intrinsic is hard (but not impossible).
  • Change starts with honesty and kindness.

2017 was hard for a myriad of reasons and in pretty much all respects (social, cultural, political, personal, etc.). But even still, I’ve made a lot of progress.

Today is the last day of the year, and it also marks the end of six months living this new life. I’ve been amazed at and grateful for the support I’ve received. I feel different in this new place – lighter, freer, more open. And all I want to do is take this momentum into the new year and start keep kicking ass.

nanowrimo completed

I finished the first draft of my novel yesterday. It ultimately clocked in at 59,722 words.

nanowrimo 2017 stats

My feelings right now are still pretty mixed. While the first draft is done, the novel itself isn’t actually done. So that weight is still there.

On the one hand, like I’ve said, I’m proud of having done this thing. Actually drafting a story like this from beginning to end was something that I had convinced myself was impossible for me to do. I believed that for a long time.

On the other hand, what I have now is a garbage pile of words that I kind of want to set on fire. I’m told this is a normal headspace to be in. I kind of never want to see this project again. Although I’ve told this story from start to finish, it’s missing a lot of things. I know that the first pass revision is going to involve extensively rewriting the whole thing, and it’ll basically feel like writing an entirely new story. Maybe. I mean, I guess I don’t know that, but that’s what it feels like from this myopic emotional distance.

Here’s some of the stuff I do know:

Continue reading

sunday shu mai

It started as just a simple craving for shu mai and turned into a Sunday evening project. But now I have a belly full of dumplings and a couple of bags of shu mai and wontons frozen for the future.

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not the prettiest, but pretty tasty

I’ll post a recipe here in a bit.