Friday, December 31, 2021

2021, huh?

So, that was weird. 2021, I mean. 

Time is always weird, of course. But it's gotten weirder lately. 

I was looking at a family picture today because Shutterfly sent it to me as a "remember this day" ad, and I do indeed remember the day very clearly. 

It's my mother's family, all of us except for one cousin and one aunt who couldn't come. It was a fundraiser my high school band was holding and we took the opportunity to get a family photo of ALL of us. The photographer had trouble getting us all in frame…maybe in part because we ranged in height from three foot to six and a half feet, or maybe because there were just so darn many of us. But it was a fun evening. We laughed so much, which is maybe why it's actually a pretty good picture with some genuine smiles in it. 

Two of my uncles, one of my aunts, and both of my grandparents are now gone, and I'm wondering how that can be, since I can remember this day so clearly, as if it were last week instead of three-going-on-four decades ago. 

2021 felt that way, too. As I write this, there's one more day in the year, and that doesn't seem right. 2021 never really felt like it started; it was more like 2020 just kept on going. So if 2021 never started, how can it be ending? 

So, I'm looking back at the year, because that's what we do at this time of year, right? Or maybe it's because I just read Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf, a book about nostalgia, at least in part. Or maybe it's because one of the things I did in 2021 was turn 50, and that's what us middle-aged ladies do. I don't know. 

But here's my year that was: 

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I started 2021 teaching from home. My middle school had gone virtual starting in March 2020, like so many did. And we stayed that way until February 2021. 

It was a time of mixed blessings. I worried about my students, but was grateful for a way to keep teaching and still feel safe, in those pre-vaccine days. 

I had the best work-life balance I've ever had, and was really there for my family more completely than I've ever been able to manage before. Being home meant that my dog, O'Neill, who was losing a cancer battle, got to end his life with all of us at home to love him and care for him. 

I've always been a teacher who enjoys using tech tools to support my practice, but I became extra adept with learning management systems, video lesson presentation, and teaching via Zoom. Learning was different than it had been before, but it still happened, and some kids thrived on it. 

February-June 2021 were the hardest months of my teaching career (and I've been at this for 27 years in a variety of places and settings). I never considered quitting as often I did during the months where I did two jobs at the same time (as an online teacher and in-the-classroom teacher at the same time), under constant stress of uncertainty and threat of severe illness. Everyone who taught during this time should get double credit towards retirement. 

When the school year ended, everyone lost their minds panicking over "learning loss" (as if you only get one chance in life to learn 7th grade math concepts and the world will end if you didn't get it on the usual time table) and teachers were strong-armed, pressured, and bribed into working various summer programs. 

I knew how burnt-out I was, so I didn't take that work. I'm still glad I didn't, though the extra money would have been nice. Because when school started up in August, I hadn't recovered from the 2020-2021 school year yet. I was still crispy around the edges. It's rough to start a school year only a step away from burnt out. 

This school year has been strange in all new ways. So many people quit. So what felt like half the staff was new, and throughout these first four months (August-December 2021), lots more people have quit, taken early retirement, or suffered medical consequences that kept them out on leave. 

We had two teaching positions at my school that went unfilled until early December and were covered by long-term subs. Often, when a teacher was absent, there was no sub available to cover their classes, so safety precautions and policies were thrown the wind, putting two classes in together and giving up all possibility of social distancing, or taking non-teaching staff (librarians, counselors, teacher's aides, etc.) and taking them out of their own work to cover absent teachers. 

At least I work somewhere that is trying to find a balance between safety and learning. Some of colleagues have not been as fortunate. I'd have to quit if they didn't. But they have a vaccine mandate for staff, mask requirements for everyone, and keep us stocked in air filters and disinfectant spray. So far, I've stayed healthy, despite having one to five students a week who go on isolation or quarantine.   

I've found some joy with my students in person again, even with all the restrictions we have to work within, and most of them, now that they've seen what school is when it's not in-person, are cooperative and grateful and trying hard. But it's still challenging, given that kids disappear for days and weeks at a time and information sharing is sketchy, making it hard to know when to give grace and when to push for productivity (not that it's ever easy to know). 

I haven't quit yet, but I have submitted some resumes for non-teaching jobs. We'll see what happens in 2022. 

: I began 2021 with a big deadline: the fourth Menopausal Superhero Novel, Be the Change (which released on December 16, 2021), was due to my publisher on January 1, 2021. 

I missed that deadline, the first time I've missed a deadline in my writing life. I turned it in on February 1. Considering how screen-burnt I was in 2020 and how difficult it was to write during that time, I'm proud that I finished the book even CLOSE to on time. 

As soon as I turned it in, I turned my attention back to the Gothic Romance I've been working on these past two years (working title: The Architect and the Heir). I was hoping to finish it by the end of summer, before I had to put it aside to work on the fifth and final Menopausal Superheroes novel, due (under renegotiated deadline) in April 2022.

I didn't finish it in time. I've always been a slow writer, compared to many of my friends and colleagues, and that became a serious frustration in 2021. 

Now, as we finish the year, I've got 20,000 words in on that fifth (as yet untitled) novel. It's proving difficult to write. Since I intend it to the be the last, there's a lot I need to wrap up from the entire series, while still making sure the book has an individual story of its own. 

Because teaching life left me so crispy I'd be a hit at Kentucky Fried Chicken, I didn't have a burst of productivity in my writing life over the break like I usually do. I'm hoping that the rest I gave myself during these two weeks will allow me to begin seeing good progress again in January. 

Still, it was not a year to sneeze at for new words written: According to my writing tracker (I use Jamie Raintree's Writing and Revision Tracker and highly recommend it), I wrote 394,333 words in 2021 (on various projects) and revised 278,544 words. My daily writing chain is now eight years long. 

I had two short stories published in paying markets. "Poison" in Enchanted Conversation and "Boy Chick" in Apex & Abyss. I saw another novel through publication. It wasn't the kind of success that lets a girl quit her day job and write full time, but it wasn't bupkis either. 

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Getting Out Into the World: 
In 2020, I dug into life as a Hobbit, and came to appreciate going slower and being home. 

But in 2021, vaccinated and caffeinated, I ventured forth again, taking some opportunities for my writing life, and taking a couple of small trips. Not as many, and with more caution than before, but I got out there. 

In 2020, I attended one convention, MarsCon in January, before conventions started shutting down, cancelling, or even folding. After building up a schedule of appearances and events over the past few years, it was weird to suddenly stop doing that. 

Since my day job involved so much screen time, I wasn't thrilled about zoom events for my writing life, but I did a few. (Con-Tinual gave us all a chance to connect with readers that way, as did Strong Women, Strange Worlds. A pretty complete list of my video appearances can be found here.) Video appearances are easier in some ways--no travel, mitigates geographic distance, potential wider audience--but they are not the same as the energy of an in-person room and the kinds of connections made that way. 

In summer 2021, convention life opened up a bit again, and I attended Con-Carolinas, Con-Gregate, Galaxy Con, and a library Pop-Con. It was really good to see my writing friends again in person. I'd missed them terribly. I have become more cautious about my energy, though, and plan to do fewer conventions and more single-day events in 2022. 

I also managed a visit to Kentucky for my mother's birthday, and she and my dad managed a visit down here for mine. Sweetman took me on a trip to the mountains to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. My long-time writing critique group (which had moved to Zoom), began meeting in person again after we were all vaccinated, and we took a short retreat to Lake Gaston in the fall. 

The big trip was a visit to New York City in October, when Broadway re-opened. I had never been and really enjoyed my few days there, though it solidified my understanding of myself as a rural girl at heart. 

We ate lots of good food, saw iconic sights, and really enjoyed the production of Six: The Musical. We haven't had that many cool travel opportunities with our youngest child, so it was great to spoil them with this trip. 

Throughout it all, I continued to walk in the woods, finding stress relief and solace in walking among the trees. 

Starting in July, two new friends joined me for those walks, when we adopted two new rescue dogs: Ghost and Pumpkin. 

They are wildly different than O'Neill was, but they have brought a great deal of joy to our lives. 

Our holidays were quiet, but lovely and we took our time away from school and work restfully and gave ourselves time to recuperate and recharge. 

So, that's my year that was. Not bad for my fiftieth one on the planet. I hope 2021 brought you joy as well, and that 2022 will give us all more reasons to smile. 

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