Tag: life (Page 1 of 2)

2021 In Review

It’s important to sum up a year with the right image.

Whew boy! 2021 was a hell of a year, wasn’t it? At the highest levels of power in our world, we got a new President (thank the gods old and new), although Trumpism is still running rampant in our society–just like COVID-19. Neither of those things are going away anytime soon, as much as I wish they would, and part of that annoying longevity is because Trumpism and COVID feed one another. Like a snake eating its tail. Or, perhaps more accurately, a completed human centipede.

COVID (and by proxy, Trumpism) has pretty severely affected my life in the past year. My wife and I are doing everything we can to protect my son, who cannot be vaccinated because of his age, which means we have no social lives and rarely leave the house to do anything but work or pick up necessities. It’s been hard. Luckily for me, I married my best friend and our son has turned out to be pretty chill.

That’s all just context for reviewing the year. I set out a bunch of goals this year, as evidenced by this chart:

NIGHT OF CHAOS was eventually renamed ANH NGUYEN AND THE DISCORDIAN. As you can see, I was pretty ambitious going into the year. And as you can also see, I absolutely overshot my capabilities. But my goals also changed throughout the year. Here’s how.

WEBSITE

One of my core beliefs in building and maintaining this website is that if I update it consistently with good content I will build an audience. I have not been consistent. Whether the content has been good is an open question, I guess, although I’m genuinely proud of everything I post. At the beginning of the year I hoped to upload a single blog post every Friday–52 in total. I also hoped to post 12 vignettes. Finally, I wanted to start a newsletter and redo the front page to coincide with my book releases. How’d I do?

  • 24 blog posts
  • 4 new vignettes
  • No newsletter

I did redo the front page. So, despite my lack of activity on the website this year, how did I do with an audience?

  • 526 users
  • 741 sessions
  • 1,087 pageviews

Not great! How do those compare to 2020?

  • 526 users (no change)
  • 835 sessions
  • 1,525 pageviews

What does this mean? For one, it means the year’s not quite done. I don’t expect to make up over 450 pageviews in 20-something days, but I suspect I’ll end the year not too far off from that. It also means that consistent posting does make a difference, even if it’s a small one. Most of my traffic this year was due to directing people interested in my books through the website. Last year was a bit more organic.

PUBLISHING

My big goal this year was to publish two books. I decided on publishing ANH NGUYEN AND THE DISCORDIAN late last year, before sending it to a pro editor for feedback. Around that time I also realized I had enough material for a short story collection–that became THROUGH DARK INTO LIGHT. I wasn’t sure I’d have the skills, money, or time to get both out the door in the time I wanted, but I ended up making it happen. I’m proud of how both works turned out, despite the huge learning curve to self-publishing.

So, how much did I spend on self-publishing this year and how good was my ROI?

  • $1,558.09 spent to publish both books (ANH NGUYEN was more expensive)
  • 58 books sold (32 ANH NGUYEN and 26 THROUGH DARK)
  • $94.44 returned

Now, on its face that looks pretty bad. But, to be honest, I didn’t have any expectations for sales. These books were meant to do two things for me in the short term: 1) learn how to navigate self-publishing and 2) become part of my backlist for use later on.

I didn’t put any effort into marketing either book aside from a few posts on social media. I probably sold 75-80% of the books that way. The rest was organic search or word-of-mouth. What was encouraging, and sort of validates my emphasis on a backlist, is that releasing THROUGH DARK INTO LIGHT actually helped me sell additional copies of ANH NGUYEN AND THE DISCORDIAN. My current plan (and plans can always change) is to release my first novel next year, which should give both my novella and short story collection another bump. More on that in another post.

Regardless of sales numbers, I’m unreasonably proud of ANH NGUYEN and THROUGH DARK. I failed in a lot of my writing goals this year, but I made sure to succeed in the ones that mattered most to me.

WORD COUNT

Having struggled with word count goals in the past, I tried to set a reasonable one this year. If I have a good grasp on what I want to write (i.e., I have a plan) then I know I can write 1,000 words within an hour. That’s plenty of time to write in the morning before work. I set a goal to do this only four days per week, for a word count of 4,000 words per week. That totals 208,000 words in a year–two whole novels!

And then I became a father. Elijah was born in January, which meant I hit my word count goal once before my life got flipped upside down. It took me over eight months to meet my weekly goal again. Since then I’ve been pretty consistent, hitting my goal 10 of the last 15 weeks of the year. Here’s how the numbers shake out for 2021:

  • Total for year: 66,275 (31.86% of goal)
  • Average per week: 1,299.51
  • Average per day: 188

Considering how little time I ended up having this year between work and home life (more on that below), that’s not bad. I’m nearly halfway through a new novel and maybe a fifth of the way through a new novella, both of which should be finished in time for publication next year. I’m also now in a much better routine, which should help me to get closer to achieving my word count goals for next year.

PERSONAL LIFE

My non-writing life was certainly interesting this year. Obviously, the biggest thing to ever happen to me generally (let alone this year) was the birth of my son, Elijah. He is demanding, and fun, and interesting, and learning and growing at a rate that I can only describe as exponential. Like, one day after never being able to stand he just did it. And then he was standing from that moment onward. Never looked back. Never regressed. He’s constant motion in mind and body, this kid.

I love him. A lot. So, even though I get cranky when I can’t write (like the majority of this year), he deserves every spare second I can give him.

I was also officially promoted at work this year. I say “officially” because it’s something I had to negotiate based on the responsibilities I already had. There were also a lot of internal changes to my company, new approaches to how we do business, many of which I was either a part of or had to adjust to. I don’t love my day job–many days I downright dislike it!–but I do enjoy my company and my team. I couldn’t write at all without the flexibility my day job provides, and they’re very much a family first company, and so have been accommodating to Elijah.

We’re also still dealing with COVID. The most difficult thing, especially with a baby, is that COVID has kept us separated from our families. Since March, 2020 we’ve only seen my father in person twice. My mother I’ve seen (I think) three times in person. We video chat with them both once per week, mostly so they can see Elijah, but it’s tough being so far away from everyone. We canceled our plans to travel to Buffalo for Christmas because of how bad COVID has been. I don’t really know what else to say about it.

As I’ve written about before, hockey is important to me. It’s a way for me to socialize and get exercise (two things I sorely lack). When COVID initially got bad in March 2020, I quit playing. I didn’t play again until after my family was vaccinated, in June of this year. I played one season on two teams, and then the Delta variant hit. So I quit again, hoping that come Fall the numbers would drop. They did not. At this point, I consider myself unofficially retired. It makes me sad.

In all, on the personal side of things, it’s been a down year. Perhaps most indicative of that, and the way I’ve dealt with it, is that a childhood friend of mine died just before summer. He was one of my first and best friends growing up (and was actually the one to introduce me to hockey). In the years since becoming teenagers we had grown apart, and hadn’t actually spoken in a long time. In fact, I can’t remember the last conversation we had. I want to say it was outside of my father’s house when we happened to run into one another, but that can’t be right. That was too long ago. He did text me shortly before he died, but the text was barely comprehensible and, because he had struggled with substance abuse earlier in our lives, I assumed he had reached out to me on accident or was under the influence at that moment. I ignored it.

That really breaks my heart. I know, logically, that there wasn’t anything I could have done for him that would have changed the outcome. There were people in his life much closer to him than I was that he had to help him. But there’s also a part of me that wonders if maybe I’d have answered that text, if I’d have asked him how he was doing, if he’d still be with us.

To be brutally honest, though, it hasn’t effected me in the ways I would have expected. In fact, it’s barely effected me at all. The night I heard of his death I was upset. I cried. I wrote about it in my journal. But then it passed. I got caught up in Elijah, and maintaining our house, and dealing with my family, and work, and writing, and a myriad other things that blunted the blow. I feel like that’s where I am in life; when shit goes wrong I acknowledge it and move on.

One day maybe I’ll find out if that’s good or bad. It probably just is what it is. It does hurt to think I won’t run into him at a hockey tournament or bopping around Buffalo, though.

Luckily, I have my wife. She’s had a hell of a year herself, what with growing and then birthing a whole human being. She also graduated with her Psy.D and started working as a professional psychologist. If it weren’t for her steady presence (and expertise in psychology) I’d probably have gone insane by now.

IN THE END

It’s been a strange year. There was a lot to be sad or angry about (to say nothing of our politics at the moment), but in the end I feel like I’m ending in a better place than I began. I saw this year as sort of a transitional year, and that ended up being true in a lot of ways. So let’s hope that the seeds I planted this year–the books, the habits and routines–pay off in the long run.

Fatherhood: Our Little Gremlin

Did you know they let anyone be a father? No test or anything!

Elijah was born on Tuesday, January 19th, at 8:20pm. The past week and a half have been a ride, man.

First, I have lots of thoughts about how fathers are viewed in our society. While in the hospital I noticed a lot of careful language around the role of fathers in the delivery room and at home that made me wonder how often nurses see situations where the father is absent or shitty. I think it’s a mixture of implicit bias on the nursing staffs’ part, and a self-fulfilling prophecy that lots of men aren’t well-prepared to be fathers and don’t have the same incentive that a woman does (you know, on account of not having to grow another person for nine months) to get prepared. I don’t know. I’ll need to write about that another time.

Coming home was exciting and terrifying. We no longer had the support of a full nursing staff, no one to take Elijah when we needed rest, and no easy answers if something felt wrong. The first night was hell. Newborns don’t have any concept of night and day (or of anything else), and it is common for a newborn to be nocturnal. In all the excitement of getting home and settled in we did not prepare for that. Over the past week I’ve probably averaged less than 5 hours of sleep per day, with that number going up bit by bit as each day has passed. But that first night isn’t something you can prepare for. Not only are you sleep-deprived and dealing with all the fun effects of that (for me, exhaustion also comes with nausea and irritability), but you’re learning your baby’s tendencies on the fly. Elijah spent a lot of that first night crying hysterically and we had no idea why.

This hasn’t changed. My wife and I joke that between the hours of 12am and 6am Elijah turns into a gremlin. He’s most alert during these hours, and also most prone to crying fits when he isn’t getting what he immediately needs. It’s honestly terrifying seeing him scrunch up his face, open his mouth, and thrash his head side to side when he’s hungry or wants attention and isn’t getting it quickly enough. I’ve had to remind myself that he’s fully automatic right now–his manual overrides don’t come built in–and that his instincts are guiding his emotions. And those instincts are to feed, shit, and sleep, sometimes all at once.

But we have learned his tendencies and made adjustments as the week has gone on that have made handling him easier. We learned that he needs to be fed more often than the recommended 2-3 hours (he’s 2 hours or less, usually–by 3 hours he loses his mind). With my sister’s help we’ve settled into a routine where we can get some sleep and even do things like write this blog.

Now, I’m prepared to stay up with him at his worst hours and weather those storms. On Tuesday, his one-week birthday, I even managed to stay with him alone from 1am-5am while my wife slept with nary a tantrum thrown. I can read him now and that’s pretty cool.

I’m told it gets easier after two weeks or so, but we’ll see. I think it’ll be just as hard, but in different ways. I am hoping for more sleep soon, though.

Thoughts on Impending Fatherhood

In January, God willing, my wife and I will be having our first child, a boy. We plan to name him Elijah.

I wonder a lot about who he might be, aware that we simultaneously have a lot and a little influence over it. We’ll prepare him for the world, teach him to interact with it in a healthy way, but no amount of teaching or preparation can really inoculate you against society. School may make him cynical. Other people’s beliefs may make him uncertain. There’s no controlling for the worst, just as there is no guaranteeing the best. All I can hope for, then, is that he can recognize one or the other for what they are and react accordingly.

The cliche is that when you have a kid, you develop all sorts of hopes and dreams for them. Sometimes unrelated to your interests, and sometimes so intertwined with your childhood dreams you risk living vicariously through your child. I don’t feel any of that. I honestly don’t care what Elijah wants to be. My only hope is that he’s a good person. I think everything else, any success or accomplishment (or lack thereof), will flow from that.

Lately I’ve found myself trying to picture the world through his eyes. Or, more accurately, remembering how I saw the world when I was a child. Colors were more vivid. The air a cleaner scent. I think about how Elijah will slowly develop nostalgia and wonder what it will be tied to. Sitting at our kitchen bar watching his mother and I cook and wash dishes? Watching the world from our front window, next to our cats, smelling the cold in the air as summer transitions to fall? Will he read with me in our basement study?

One thing that’s weird to me is that he won’t be a Buffalonian, as I am. He’ll grow up near Philadelphia. And he’ll be a suburbanite, no less! If I successfully indoctrinate him into my love of hockey, he’ll probably root for the Flyers and not the Sabres. His cultural understanding will be different than mine. He’ll say “soda” instead of “pop,” or “wooder” instead of “water,” or “creek” instead of “crik.”

Elijah won’t know the bitter cold that comes with the wind off of Lake Erie. He won’t smell Cheerios from the General Mills factory on his way to school. We won’t take him to our favorite spots–the Botanical Gardens, the Basilica, or the Albright Knox–instead, we’ll find new ones with him. And then he’ll find his own.

We’re privileged enough, now, that Elijah won’t grow up to want for much, as my wife and I did. He’ll have more than two pairs of jeans to wear to school. He won’t wear his sneakers until they’re falling apart and, even then, glue them together. He won’t have memories of his grandparents bringing bags of groceries to the house when the factory went on strike. My parents worked in that factory so I could eventually give this luxury to Elijah.

Unfortunately, Elijah also won’t know his grandparents well. He only has three to start with, and two are in Buffalo while the other is just outside of DC. Because of our location, extended family will be a foreign concept to him. But on the plus side, maybe that means he’ll get to choose who he considers family. And maybe he’ll do a good job of it.

I’m fascinated with the fact that he’s going to enter our home “tabula rasa.” It’s a huge responsibility to teach a child, to instill in them the values that will make them a good member of society. Not necessarily successful (although of course I want that), not necessarily respected (of course I want that, too), but good. Someone that cares for others. Someone that gives a fuck.

I keep telling my wife that I need to get my shit together. Build good habits. Because I need to model these things for him. I need to show him with my actions what it is to be curious, and healthy, and empathetic, and kind, and respectful, and charitable. When he’s young he’s going to watch me and copy the things I do, if only because there is no one else. That means picking up my flaws, too.

I used to be afraid of that. I don’t want to fail him. I probably will. But it’s also a challenge I’m excited to meet. I don’t fantasize about watching Elijah hit a home run or earn scholarships or anything like that. I fantasize about the conversations we might have. Listening to him figure out the world and helping him along where I can.

I feel most excited when I picture the small moments we’ll have together. When it’s quiet. When it’s still. When I can soak in who he is and feel awe at the potential of who he’ll become.

Re-Centering

I’ve felt overwhelmed, lately. Between the house, work, Covid-19, protests, and personal things I began to have trouble sleeping, was dealing with anxiety, and generally just felt stressed the fuck out.

So, I’ve taken the last three days off work to recenter. I do feel better, but I’m realizing that the things I would normally due to find my equilibrium aren’t possible in this environment. See, I generally feel at my best when I’m able to fulfill three parts of my life:

  • Work
  • Creative
  • Exercise or play

Work is a constant, and often is the reason I lose my handle on the other two. Creative pursuits are something I need to actively do, but if I’m disciplined and comfortable it’s usually not a problem. Exercise or play I take care of, in normal times, with hockey. Covid-19 has taken that away.

Over the past few days, in between taking care of the house (a pipe burst and flooded our basement, so it’s been constant contractors in and out) and trying to relax, I’ve been thinking about how to update my equilibrium in these strange times. What I’ve settled on, for right now, anyway, is to change how I treat myself and how I define certain activities.

First, I’m forgiving myself for not going the extra mile right now. If I miss blog posts, or if I don’t write a thousand words per day (or at all), that’s ok. I’ve lost my designated space, my mind is distracted with new stressors, and because it’s our busy season at work I need to stay as sharp as I can be to focus on that.

Instead, I’ve changed my idea of creativity to include “passive creativity.” Stockpiling knowledge and ideas for when I’m able to attack it again. I’ve committed to reading more non-fiction (starting with Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist to deepen my understanding of the things I’m interested in and that have profoundly affected my thinking recently. I’ve already felt inspired by both, for different things.

The last leg of the stool, so to speak, is exercise or play (work, the first leg, is a given). Hockey is more than exercise for me. It’s almost the entirety of my social life. That can’t be replaced. Due to my family situation and our low risk tolerance for anyone getting sick, until there’s a vaccine I’m afraid that’s a “c’est la vie” situation. Instead, I’ve settled for making working out as fun as possible for myself. When quarantine began I bought a set of dek tiles from a local rink to practice my game on and support the rink while it was shut down. In addition, I recently bought a standing punching bag to do cardio on (I hate running) and vent frustration. I had a hanging bag when I was a kid, and lost a lot of my form since then. I’m looking forward to getting it back.

Whether or not these changes in perspective and approach actually help or not, I won’t know for a while. This whole year feels lost in a lot of ways, and I think accepting that things will be different for a long time so an adjustment in perspective and approach may be necessary is helpful to me.

Once I get back onto a regular schedule with this blog, I think you’ll know I’ve made it out of the woods.

A Brief Update

A lot has happened over the past few weeks, so I wanted to post a brief update. But first:

BLACK LIVES MATTER

Shamefully, I’ve been quiet about this on the internet. So I wanted to unequivocally state where I stand.

Just over three weeks ago, when the justified outrage of George Floyd’s murder echoed through cities across the world, I wrote a blog post that tried to sum up my feelings on my role in the injustice and what voice in the discussion I might have. It was about how I’m a coward and how cowardice like mine is one of the root causes for the lack of change in our prejudiced systems. Ultimately, I decided not to publish it (reinforcing its thesis).

At least, not at the moment. While it’s true, it also frames a discussion of race around a straight white guy’s feelings on it.

Instead, I decided to listen, read, learn, and donate. My wife and I made donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center, We the Protestors Campaign Zero Initiative, and the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition. If you’re able, please consider donating to these organizations as well.

Personal News

I bought a house. I had to move into that house. That took some doing. And then, once we moved in, I learned that owning a house is, in itself, a lot of work. Some of it is ignorance from not owning a house before (we spent $100 deductible to get our washing machine repaired and it turned out to be a stuck button-easiest money that guy ever made), and some of it is just part and parcel of being in a larger space. I’ve spent more money in the past month than I could have imagined being able to afford (including dropping nearly a grand on a sick cat–don’t worry, she’s fine).

On top of these new responsibilities, my day job is ramping up for our busy season. I couldn’t manage updates, or any type of writing, while settling into the house and putting in long hours at work. If I’m not doing one of those two things, I’m trying to crawl back some “me” time.

Speaking of which, I’m not much of a gamer, but got some games on Steam that I’m excited about. Here are some games I’ve played and highly recommend for those that would like a little break from reality:

  • Firewatch – One of the first games I played when I got Steam a few years back, it’s beautiful and absorbing. Play it to get wrapped up in its mystery and storytelling, or just play it to enjoy the scenery and relax. Both are wonderful experiences.
  • Night in the Woods – At first this might seem like a cutesy sidescroller where you play as a snarky, anthropomorphic cat, but around the time you find a severed arm in the middle of the street you realize there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
  • The Beginner’s Guide – A series of games within the game, it’s a meta journey into the mind of a creator. It’s also beautiful.
  • The Stanley Parable – As evidenced by Every Day the Same Dream, I have a thing for retreating further into the things that cause me pain. This game is similar in that you’re an office worker, there are illusions of choice, and it’s a mindfuck. To say more would ruin the experience.

I also started playing Dear Esther, which is another gorgeous, thought-provoking game. So thought-provoking, you might see a story inspired by it sometime in the future.

You’ll notice a pattern with those titles, in that they’re essentially all story-heavy walking simulators. If that’s not your thing, well then you and I are different people, friendo.

***

I hope to be back on a regular schedule this week. With the way work has gone, and the fact that while we’re technically moved into the house, we’re nowhere near settled, and the reality we face that our country is a shitshow, I can’t promise.

But I’ll try.

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