I took a break from blog posting during my holiday vacation to read, spend time with family, and gear up to begin my novel (and my job search) in 2008. It was a relaxing and successful and much-needed vacation - here on its last day I feel reinvigorated and ready to tackle the commute and work and all the other challenges of life...hopefully it will be at least a few days before I get deflated again. Ha-ha.
My girlfriend and I had some friends over for a few hours last night. Our new place is coming together well, and it was nice to show it off. The friends left around 11 pm to head to one of their local neighborhood bars before midnight.
The New Year itself started off with some sad news. Not 15 minutes before the ball was scheduled to drop in Times Square, my girlfriend learned that her grandmother may not have more than a few days to live. Her mom is headed to her grandmother (who lives outside the U.S.) later today. Such news has arrived before and her grandmother has recovered - we can hope that is also the case this time. But either way, I am here for her, as she was for me about six months ago in a very similar situation with my grandfather.
I also firmly believe that this in no way sets the tone for the new year, which will be filled with good things: a new place for us, new jobs (possibly), and even a (much-needed) new leader and new direction for this country.
As for resolutions, despite my earlier post I didn't do a lot of deep thinking about making any. Resolutions probably shouldn't just be continuations of what's already going on ("I will continue going to the gym four times a week, barring major time conflicts or travel") or things you have to do ("I will find a job this year") or things that are just plain common sense. I can think of lots of candidates for resolutions: doing better about bringing in a good lunch every day, drinking less soda and more water, going to bed by 11 every night, etc etc.
That being said, I came up with three sort of mushy-squishy resolutions for 2008:
1. I'll spend less time on the internet at home. More time reading, writing, posting (doesn't really count as "the internet"), talking with my girlfriend or my family, at the gym, or out with friends. Anything but endless surfing, google and myspace-stalking, etc. It's a good way to free up more time and spend more time in the present and less in the past.
2. I will continuously strive for perspective. I sat here for five minutes thinking about how to articulate what I mean with this one, and that last sentence was the best I could come up with. It may sound self-indulgent or even New Agey, but I don't care. Life is short, and the rat-race (especially here in D.C.) can seem like the only game around. Going to do fieldwork, especially overseas, always left me - for a while - with a different sense of perspective. Of what's really important, and how important my own problems are (or aren't). So what does "strive for perspective" even mean? It means to keep working to understand myself and the people around me, to keep trying to improve, to maintain and strengthen my relationships with people. I can't just single out one thing ("I'll work on controlling my temper" or "I'll talk to my grandma once a week"). What actions does it entail? Things like meditation (which I really want to start doing regularly again), writing down dreams, keeping in better touch with my brothers, living in the moment with my parents, giving my girlfriend the patience she deserves (and not displacing any of my own feelings onto her), and starting to give to charity again once I have a permanent position. This is probably starting to sound half-hokey and half-pseudo spiritual. All I can say is that I recognize this big mish-mash as important and want to work on it. If I can narrow it down later, I will.
3. I will start and diligently work on my novel, maintaining as much momentum as I can. Last year my one resolution was to begin the preparation work. In fits and starts throughout the year I developed the theme, plot, and characters. I wound up with a set of notes that is long enough to be a novel in and of itself, and spent many hours researching on the internet and reading books and papers. First I thought I would finish this by June, then September, then November. Now it's January 1 again and it was only just before Christmas that I finished.
At any point during the past year I might have decided the idea was unworkable, but I didn't. Is it scary to think about opening a new file and beginning to type? Hell yeah. You know, when I was in high school, I wrote three novels. All three were fairly well-developed in my mind before I began writing (at least in terms of overall plot), but all three were also projections of myself onto the page.
When I was a postdoc I also started to write what, if finished, would have been a novel-length work. Again, self-projection was an issue (though not nearly as bad as the high school stuff), and I just launched full-blown into it without much beyond a premise (one weekend of brainstorming preceded beginning to write). Little thought about where it was all going and what I really wanted to say occurred. I didn't even start at the beginning, but at some unspecified middle portion. The premise was intriguing, and still is. But, predictably, it quickly turned into a tirade against academia.
Is there some of me in my current project? Hell yeah. I have strongly embraced the idiom to write what you know. Is some of it drawn from my own experiences? Most definitely. But the protagonist is not me, and I am far enough removed from the time, place, and situation I'm writing about to be able to evaluate what is going on objectively. Any character sticking around for more than a few pages has already been named and developed - if I find myself needing an additional character or two that's OK, but I don't expect any major surprises. I know the beginning, pretty much know the middle, and know the end...I challenge my characters to thwart this plot structure (they're not automatons, after all), but since I know them pretty well, I don't think they will.
Some people say to write the way I tried to do when I was a postdoc and just let things happened. Others say to do it the way I'm doing it now. I guess it depends on the writer. Knowing myself, I think this way (deliberately, with lots of preparation) will suit me much better.
One thing I can't say in my resolution is that I will finish a first draft by X date or write Y words each day. First because I really don't know how long this thing is going to turn out to be, and second because life sometimes throws monkey wrenches into the best-laid plans. But one issue I had last year was momentum - as I said above, I worked in fits and starts. That can't happen here or the product will suffer. So that's why I set working diligently and maintaining momentum as my goals - mushy-squishy qualitative, but really the wisest course of action.
I did a lot of reading over the break and wanted to post about those books, and also about our trip to New York, but for now I'll just say "Happy New Year" again and close.