Three… two… one…

As my husband sings, off-key but with honest enthusiasm, “It’s the final countdown…”

Final countdown to classes being done for me. For now, at least. A Bachelor’s degree is something to be proud of, and I’ve worked hard these past three years to attain one. I’m two tests away from passing my classes, and I’ve spent all week studying for both. It’s completely possible that I’ll panic and flub the tests, but I’ve done all I can to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

And thus will end my college adventure.

I will miss college. I love learning and the school environment, I get a lot out of it. I was spoiled – my professors were all good, with a few that were great. (Okay, there was one that started rocky, but we managed to work it out.) I also met a lot of students who were interesting. Intelligent, sarcastic, open minded, opinionated.. if it weren’t for college I wouldn’t have any stories of the woman who worked as a clown and wrote stories about serial killers. She’d bring cotton candy to class.

The job hunt, on the other hand, I did not miss, but it has already begun. I likened it to the dating scene – there are so many misses and so few hits. I have only just started this journey, though, and my hopes are that I’ll land a job soon. I owe my husband a nicer house, you see, and the only way we’ll get it is through my gainful employment.

This doesn’t mean I’ve given up on my dream of being a novelist. However, I have discovered that you can produce books while having a full-time job, it just takes time. If I hit it big on one of my titles, then things might change, but it may be a few years before I make it J.K. Rowling big. It’s good to have interests outside of work, after all. I mean, I also plan on getting a gym membership when I can pay for one.

The big change starts tomorrow, after the tests are done. I shall raise a glass to my college career, and then chase it with another for my future endeavors. Then I’ll be sure to be thankful that the summer’s not over yet!

Jiyeon Park

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This Year for Christmas, Just a Handbasket

I would like to say that I have been too busy to keep up with my blog, and that would be true, but the real reason I haven’t written anything is because life got tough for a while. I couldn’t write anything but how much it sucked, and nobody has the spoons for that.

The short version is that my husband passed out and fell, giving himself a concussion. There’s no clear reason as to why he passed out – our current theory is that he had a fever and he stood up too fast. When we took him to the doctor they weren’t able to diagnose any better than us, unfortunately, although they did order some tests to rule out a few things. We were in the shadow of the valley of no insurance, so this made things much more interesting at the time. We have insurance now, but we still don’t have a ton of answers, the fact that he can’t take his ADHD meds, he can’t get his heart rate up, and he’s pretty much had to retool how he works. Luckily, his job is being very accommodating.

Concussions are a serious deal. I already knew that, having had two friends who have had one, but it’s different when you’re living with a person every day who has one. It’s a very intense situation. I’m also used to having a partner who helps out with everything, so to have him on light duty has increased my responsibilities… right before finals. This is a difficult situation but we’ve been handling it. He fell a month ago today.

School has been going well. I have ended up with two classes that I loved and one class that I did not. I am already done with the two classes I love, papers and projects are turned in, everything is now waiting on grading. My last class, the one I don’t love, has a final scheduled for today. I’m not happy about the final but I’ve done my preparation and research so I think I’m as ready to go as I can be. We had 8 study questions and 3 of those will be the final exam, so I need to keep everything in my head a little while longer.

I won’t lie – once this class is done, I will forget I ever took it. It was touted to be a high-value class for my major, but after taking it I am still failing to find it relevant. It’s disappointing, but it seemed like other people got more from the class than me, so it’s obvious I missed something.

Winter break is almost upon us! I am looking forward to three weeks of no homework, family time, and maybe even a little holiday baking. I could even write, although I have been warned against this by friends of mine. It’s hard to give up the habit, even if it is supposed to be break.

This has been a particularly stressful holiday season, not just for me, but for my friends, and I hope that the new year will bring in some much-needed relief. If you are not one of those people and are doing fine, I’m happy for you. If your season has been rough this year, keep going. Christmas rarely killed anybody, unless you’re Phoebe’s dad from Gremlins.

unsplash-logoAnnie Spratt

Read, Write, Lather, Rinse, Repeat

I have been in school for a week, and I can already feel myself getting smarter.

Yes, I am gaining knowledge, but I can gain knowledge by picking up any old book and starting to read. There are documentaries out there, if I can’t spare the time for a book. There are YouTube videos that are even shorter, although the danger of being trapped in the Kittenverse is much greater that way.

What I mean is that I can feel spaces in my understanding that I previously did not realize I had. I can feel them because they are filling up, with discourse and reason and logic. Not the knowledge itself, but the framework, like a spider’s web being spun to span a doorframe. Things that I missed, because it flatly wasn’t my strong suit to notice. I’m learning system.

What I mean by learning system is that I’m learning the terminology, the grammar, the rules which construct thoughts. I think all the time, but how I think is changing as I recognize key concepts that I’d never thought about before.

This mind expansion is assisted by the young classmates that I share classes with. A significant portion of them grew up with this kind of mindframe. It is not new to them, or different, so they are not sharing my experience. They are instead adding to it, by showing me realtime how they reflect on the content we are being exposed to for my classes.

One of my classes is a Philosophy class, and while I am singularly unimpressed with the gender bias and general air of superiority that is rife with every reading, the how of it sinks into the cracks and I begin to see how they thought, how they examined the world around them. I don’t want to emulate their conclusions, but we are nearly five thousand years beyond them in terms of science and technology. Their findings don’t make sense anymore, but they are the basis for thought in Western Civilization, so I suppose one might give them a nod for it.

Another one of my classes is investigating Augmented Realities, and how those realities affect the people that exist in them. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal until you recognize that every book every written is an alternate reality, created by a person who saw things in a unique way. We may only just be scootching our way in to virtual reality, but humans have been taking trips into their imagination for millennium. Hell, once every couple of weeks I indulge in the same process, of sharing an illusory world with approximately 40 other people. I am aware that I am not actually my character, but for several hours I have a different set of priorities, principles, goals and beliefs, and I portray her with all the cleverness and pathos I can muster. I am invested in a world that doesn’t exist, and I have learned a lot even in the short time I’ve played with the troupe.

The last class is a lesson in culture, focusing on black science fiction. Octavia Butler, Sam Delany, but more than that, musicians like Sun Ra and George Clinton, and let’s not forget Nichelle Nichols, who became a cultural icon as Uhura. I grew up in a small white community in Wyoming, with very few friends that weren’t white. I wasn’t exposed to black culture in any meaningful way, but this is something that I can plug into immediately. The stories they tell are unique, powerful, and inspiring, and I am expanding my understanding in ways that I can’t even calculate yet. Better understanding often leads to better communication, and I am all for that.

So, this is how I’ve spent my days since school started. Getting smarter, feeling more confident, enjoying the hell out of my classes.

Things are turning out all right.

 
Photo credit:
Ryan Holloway

2015 in review

My friend and colleague Allie Drennan wrote up a post like this, and it got me to thinking. A lot of people have been talking about the year 2015 in qualitative ways, and for me… well, 2015 was nothing if not full of extremes.

The beginning of the year was grim, with me missing out on our family’s vacation in Whistler, BC. Being home alone for a week offered me a chance to write, but it also left me bumping around a house that had no laughing child and no smiling husband. The only good thing was my story “The Gaijin & The Butterfly” was published by Oriental Excess.

Later, in March, I got to go to Norwescon and take the panels seriously. Three fourths of my writers group were there with me, and we were organized. One of my writers group, James, even introduced me to an excellent writing opportunity. I was flying high and feeling invincible.

So, when I lost my job in April, you can imagine my surprise. I wandered in the weeds as I tried to find a job, only to be roundly neglected by everyone I applied with. Finally, it came down to a harsh truth. I had capped out on what I could do on paper, and if I ever wanted to get out of call centers, I was going to have to go back to school.

I published my book Bento Box in all of this excitement, and tried to learn more about the marketing side of writing. I wrote a short story, “Bits & Pieces,” and it was published by Luna Station.

I then took my planned trip to Wyoming. When I came back home, it was a matter of days before both Toby and I went to school.

School hit me like a load of bricks. I was a good student, but I wasn’t anticipating the amount of work it would be to do school. I fell behind in my classes a little and struggled to catch up. The last time I was in school, I didn’t have as many responsibilities as I have now. I still managed to churn out thirteen short stories over the course of the year. One is submitted to a contest, one is submitted to an anthology, and the rest are in stages of doneness before I figure out where to submit them.

A little ray of sunshine hit after I registered for winter quarter. Turns out, I had more credits from going to college as a high school senior than I thought I did. It was a bright spot in a month full of flooding and replacing our floors.

I passed my classes, which is probably better than I deserved after floundering as hard as I did. I learned a lot though, some directly from my classes and more indirectly.

The most important thing that I learned from 2015 is that I got comfortable. I stopped striving. I didn’t push my body; I didn’t push my mind. I just accepted that life was going to be as it was, and I was okay with that. As soon as I got to that point of acceptance, life turned a huge corner and my life shook down to its foundations. Now that I am striving for something again, things are going in the right direction, and while it’s hard, it’s good.

I also learned that if you have a small, dedicated group of people on your side, working towards similar goals and willing to trade help for help, you can get so much farther in life than trying to go it on your own. Support is vital to success, and the more support you have, the better off you are.

I learned a hard lesson this year. I also had Allie, who has been with me through this whole rough year, cheering me on and keeping me focused on the prize. We’ve been friends for over a decade but our friendship was strengthened this year quite a bit. We have plans to publish more stories, and to get our names out there. It’s good to have a shared dream; no one motivates you more than the person who is just as invested as you in the goal.

And now, on to 2016, and the challenges that await.

Work Redefined

Being recently unemployed, I was faced with a quandary. Do I find a job, or do I go back to school?

Getting a job in my town has always been a struggle. Nineteen years ago it was a struggle, well before the dips and dives in the economy. School was an attractive alternative to fighting over scraps. I went to the WorkMore office, a non-profit resource for the unemployed.  Lovely people work there and they try to help.

I went to a class on how to keep unemployment benefits and go to school. I felt that my situation wouldn’t qualify but it was worth me spending an hour to find out. The class left me feeling as though I was correct about my supposition, but then the teacher told me he’d make me an appointment with a woman who was a writer and “knew more about these things.” A slender hope, but when you’re in the water, you don’t judge the rope you’re thrown.

The woman, who I’ll call Maggie, was a short, feminine powerhouse of personality. She was stone confident in herself, and seemed pleasant enough.

Maggie listened to my plans, to become an author and to become an editor, and she promptly discarded them. “You’d have to move. Are you sure you don’t want to become a nurse?”

I was staggered. Why would I want to become a nurse? I mean, it is a growth industry, but it’s never been my calling. Maggie threw my calling to the ground and stomped on it.

I didn’t argue with her. I was there on the hope that I could get some help from the state about my unemployed status. I’m getting handouts until I can find a job, after all. Why would my feelings about my job matter?  I just nodded and contributed a little to the conversation, waiting out the storm.

In years past I would have wilted under her onslaught. I would have talked to her about nursing, even though my heart wouldn’t have been in it. I would have capitulated, just to get into school, just to do something to change my life.

But I realized.. I’m already changing my life. I already have a job. It doesn’t work like we consider jobs to work – it’s not 9-5, and it’s not paying me. Yet. But I’m putting the work in. I work far more hours than a simple 9-5 job. I am always considering, tweaking, reading, researching, and agonizing over what to do next. I take time out for my family after work and school, but as soon as my son goes to bed I’m back at work again. I’ve never worked this hard in my life.

And I love it. It doesn’t feel like work, not the way I always understood work to feel. I get to make decisions for myself; I don’t have to check in with a supervisor. I don’t get assigned tasks, I go and find out what to do next. I don’t have upper management frowning at me because I have an idea; I just implement it.

The hard part is making money. A lot of people are better writers than me, better known, with backers and recognition and years of experience. But they all started somewhere.

I may not be famous yet, but I do have faith that I can tell a good story. I have learned a lot about writing books in the past six years. Knowing what I know now, I wish I could have done things differently, but I wouldn’t want to change a thing. I’ve learned so much and I’ve grown so much as a writer. Now more than anything, I want to get my book out there so I can start on the next one, and just keep doing what I love.

And if I have to take a job to support my writing habit… to me, it just means not giving up, no matter what.