My End of 2016 Homework

I’ve been doing this end-of-the-year homework assignment, since Jamey Hatley suggested it in 2010, telling me: “I don’t think you realize how much you’ve done this year.” A lot has changed over the years, but still I wrap up each year with this homework, and now I know lots of people who are writing “have done” lists, rather than to-do lists.

Last year, I wrote that my resolution for 2016 was to do more of what I was already doing in 2015. Coincidentally, I think a lot of this year’s “have done” list lines up with last year’s.

1) Cooking at home was once more a priority. While I continued to bake my bread every week, and take it to gatherings, I also made beet humus and a few soups new staples. I spent a lot of mornings using my baking or cooking as a timer for a writing session. Throughout the year, I read The Food Lab, which is essentially a cooking textbook, and talked shop with co-workers who are legit chefs (i.e. they’ve worked in restaurants and been on The Food Network). I hoarded cookbooks from the library (books are a running theme this year, you’ll see), and planned a Mediterranean-themed small plates dinner for a friend, using pretty much every pan and dish I own in the process.

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2) I threw myself into my dream job, working at the library. Last year, it was a revelation to find myself anticipating going to work, rather than dreading it. I’d had so many temporary and seasonal jobs over the course of my career (film gigs, jobs around my school schedule), I wondered if my joy and pleasure with the job could be sustained in a regular full-time job. Plus, the library has always been my happy place. It was a busy, sometimes chaotic year. The branch where I worked closed for renovation and I worked at half of the 14 library branches in New Orleans! I joined a planning committee, organizing programs. The work I’ve done this year has touched on the skills I’ve gained from every other job I’ve ever held. And as my first year anniversary arrived, I was surprised that through all the ups and downs, all the of challenges and extra tasks I took on, I still loved my job. When I got back into my newly-renovated branch, I found myself pleased to go to work everyday, still.

3) I dipped into new and old dance styles. I went to a kizomba house party and a dance meditation session led by a belly dance instructor. I danced a little salsa, went swing dancing with friends, danced to a big band. I learned the National Dance Day choreography from New Orleans Dance Network instructors at the library. As always, I danced around my house.

4) And of course, there’s tango. For the third year, I helped organize the New Orleans Tango Festival, including a milonga on the Creole Queen riverboat (yes, while the boat was cruising). A lot of my jobs have included event organization and I brought so many previous experiences to the logistics for this event! The milonga on the boat, and the whole festival, went very well (check out the link above for the 2016 video).

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5) Finally, I got to San Francisco. I’ve been wanting to visit for a while. Last year, while flying to Portland for ValenTango,  I had layovers in San Francisco, so I got to see the city while landing and taking off there. It was so beautiful that I promised myself I’d go this year. And I did! I went to Nora’s Tango Weekend and had a blast, catching up with friends who come to New Orleans for our festival each year, and making new friends.

6)  Continuing the travel trend, I also went to the 5th Annual Cleveland Tango Bowling Marathon. This trip combined a few things for me. First, one of my oldest friends, Beth, had moved to Columbus for work. She’s gotten to see me dance tango a few times and wanted to learn more. Plus, I have family in Columbus, including one of my grandmothers, whose birthday was after the marathon. So, Beth and I had a fabulous few days in Cleveland: catching up, dancing and meeting new people. Then, we went back up to Columbus and I made dinner for my grandmother for her birthday before returning home. It was pretty much a perfect trip.

7) I got to meet Alexander Chee at the Tennessee Williams Festival, and Daniel Jose Older when he spoke at the library and then on the panel I moderated at the Louisiana Book Festival. I also got to meet R.L. Stine while he was in town for Bouchercon, and Chris Baty when spoke at Words and Music. Was pretty inspired by all these authors and their talks.

8) Speaking of that Louisiana Book Festival panel that I moderated. It was on the topic of anthologies, but was basicaly an unabashed excuse to get Daniel Jose Older, Jamey Hatley, Maurice Carlos Ruffin and Erin Wood together in the same room so I could eavesdrop on their conversation. It was a satisfying success.

9) And speaking of success… I got to witness the success of a lot of my friends this year. I hibernated a lot, but when I did get out of the house, it was usually to go watch a good friend read their work. In the midst of bad or heavy news, hearing about someone winning a prize or publishing a story or a book was something to really get excited about. I know this is my “have done” list, but this year, I do count celebrating the success of so many lovely writers as something I have done. A highlight, really.

10) Because there was a lot of bad news this year. We’ve all been reeling from the deaths of of icons who touched our lives. Nearby, a lot of people suffered in the Baton Rouge floods, including friends. On the personal front, a few friends have been battling cancer, one facing a terminal diagnosis. One of my grandmothers,  who I hadn’t seen since her birthday during 2012’s Grandma Road Trip, passed away this year. Another friend died unexpectedly just before Christmas. So grief has been a big facet of this year.

11) I felt genuine grief leading up to and following the election. But I also found my voice in the midst of that, or began to use my voice, I should say. For example: like many people, I regularly experience street harassment. I usually freeze up – literally going silent and shaking after I’ve quickly removed myself from the situation. But on election day, when I was catcalled, I pushing through the shaking and the instinct to go silent and I responded.

The rush I felt after speaking up for myself lasted for a while, and I hope it will remain to remind me to speak up. In the wake of our election, I’m having conversations as often as possible, trying to both listen and speak. For an entire 11-hour train ride recently, I did this, talking with person after person in the microcosm of the train, being transformed by those conversations and hopefully adding to the transformation of others.

12) I got a bit distracted at times, loving my job and grieving, but I wrote steadily through the year, determined to finish The Novel. For a majority of the year, I had a somewhat regular manuscript exchange with author Amy Conner and this exchange, as well as sessions with other writer friends, really kept me on track.

13) In fact, I won NaNoWriMo (after meeting Chris Baty, how could I not?) this year. This year’s 50K was about 8K new words on The Winter Circus and 42K words from a new perspective character for a zombie novel I started writing a few NaNoWriMos ago.

14) I read a lot this year, more than any other year since I’ve been keeping track. Books were my happy place. Almost half of my reading this year was comic books and graphic novels, which is a first. I read almost as many nonfiction titles as fiction. I read all of Liane Moriarty’s novels and many zombie-themed materials. I read several anthologies, one play, two screenplays and one book of poetry. I actually read more YA novels than adult novels, due to an ongoing conversation with a friend’s teen-aged son. I used to recommend books to him. Now, he tells me what he’s reading and we talk about the books once I’ve read them.

15) I conducted a mini reading project in preparation for one I’m hoping to do next year. I really enjoyed the Re-Reading Project in 2014, and I’ve meant to do another one. While I did re-read four books this year (one novel, one picture book, one graphic novel and one nonfiction writing book), that’s not the project I’m hoping to do next year. I’ll leave that one to be a surprise for now. The mini reading project was the Finishing Project. I had a handful of books that I started reading years ago and never finished. For instance, I read most of Misty Copeland’s Life in Motion (through page 228) while I was at the residency in 2014, but just now finished. I stopped reading Art Spiegelman’s MetaMaus on page 234, back in 2013. I suspect that one was timing, as I moved while I was reading it.  I read about 20 more pages before I decided wasn’t going to finish that one, this year at least. So ultimately, the Finishing Project only prompted me to finish one book, and to wrap up the ones I was currently reading. There are still six books I had hoped to finish, and maybe I will next year. But a weird thing happened while I was concentrating on finishing books – I read 30 books in December. Pretty much one each day.

16) One book I did finish this year was mine, The Novel, The Winter Circus. I buried the lead on that one, sorry. But after a year of hibernating and pushing off a lot of things for “when the book’s done,” my book is finished. There’s still a lot of steps ahead before it’s a published book that you can buy, but I’ve worked very hard to get right here, to The End.

Now I’m going to go celebrate.

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