Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 Reflection Questions

I am continuing in the tradition of answering these annual reflection questions. I got them from Simple Mom. You can find the full original attribution information on my 2009 responses and read my 20102011, or 2012 responses by clicking the links.

This is always a long post. Grab an afghan and get cozy.

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?


Single best thing, hands down: graduating with my MFA in fiction from UC Riverside. Not that I wanted to leave, or anything, but finishing my degree there is something I'm really proud of, and all of the events surrounding my final residency and graduation were really special. I feel like my thesis consumed the last third or so of the year, so it's also fitting that completing the MFA would be the single best thing; it feels like it is literally the only thing.

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?


The single most challenging thing wasn't a thing, it was a process. Working on my thesis really knocked me on my butt, and not in the way I expected. The writing of it was completely doable, but it made me not as present for other areas of my life. I found I could get the writing done, but that when I tried to write and then teach and then parent/wife with what was left, it was so hard. I remember hearing the students who were ahead of me in the program talk about how difficult the thesis quarter is, and it just didn't seem like it could be as big of a deal as they made it out to be. I was wrong. It wasn't that there was external pressure, either. The pressure came from me, from wanting to put my best foot forward and present my best work in that final collection. In some ways that's really thrilling, and that's what I know I need--to be self-reflective--if I'm going to have any kind of career as a writer. When I worked it into the reality of my 2013 life, though, it meant some challenges. Or at least, it meant that I had to really think about where I want to spend my time and energy if I want to be able to be good to my husband and family--and still write.

3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?

An unexpected joy was the publication of my first book review, a review of Aimee Bender's The Color Master at The Rumpus. For so many reasons, this was unexpected and joyful. Unexpected because I didn't expect to have things move as quickly as they have with my book reviewing, or to have editors be as good to me as they have been. Unexpected because I was lucky to get to review the work of someone like Aimee Bender on my first shot. Joyful because I love The Rumpus. And joyful because it got the ball rolling. I've been lucky to have many opportunities since that first review to do what I love--review books--and I am so, so grateful for all of it.

4. What was an unexpected obstacle?


This year's unexpected obstacle came at work. I made some conscious choices this year to lighten my workload (I thought). I decided to take a year off from teaching AP English--and thought that in so doing, I'd be better able to concentrate on my thesis, writing, etc. But I didn't account for two things: the first is that we have a new schedule this year that includes an additional tutoring period twice a week: basically, another class. Basically, more stress. The second is that switching from AP classes to regular ed classes did mean fewer papers to grade (that part I had right), but really, it hasn't been any different in terms of workload. Being in a "regular" classroom doesn't feel any easier to me than AP. In fact, all I can see is how I have a classroom full of different kids that also need a teacher who is present. Kids are kids. They need a good teacher. The obstacle wasn't really something new--it was something the same. And the realization that I have a job that requires 100% no matter who is in front of me. There aren't ways to teach (at least for me) that feel like less work. And even though that realization made this year more difficult than I thought it would be, it was an important one.

5. Pick three words to describe 2013.

sleepless, busy, productive

6. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your 2013 (don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you).


successful, busy, tired

7. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their 2013 (again, without asking).


responsible, charming, Dad

8. What were the best books you read this year?

You can read my longer post about books here, but here are some favorites:

Novels: The Barbarian Nurseries, We Only Know So Much, We The Animals
Short Stories: If I'd Known You Were Coming, Simplify, The Color Master, Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail
Nonfiction: The Lost Art of Reading, Cooked, The Telling Room

9. With whom were your most valuable relationships?


Last January, in one of my goal-setting posts, I said this:
I would like to strengthen my relationships in my MFA program this year. I want to make sure these are lifelong friendships, and that once I graduate I have friends from the program for emotional strength, but also so I have a group of colleagues, and we can continue to read and help improve each other's work.
I think this happened. Or is happening. And not really by any action I've taken. Just by the simple fact that I'm surrounded by amazing, smart, interesting people who I want to know now and keep knowing. And the relationship part all happened organically. Or nearly. I did send a ton of letters in the mail, but I love doing that. Having a few opportunities to hang out with my friends outside of the residency "compound" in between stays really confirmed that these are forever relationships. I feel so lucky to have good people. And for the first time in my life, I feel like I found this whole cache of nerds who love all the same things I love. I made this a goal because I knew it was important for my writing life. What I didn't know is how much these friendships would impact my real life, too.

10. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?

If last year's biggest change was about trying to remember how to say no to things I didn't want to do, this year was, for sure, about asking specifically for what I want. That's not something I typically do, in my default mode, but I felt a sense of urgency about taking responsibility for myself and my writing career as I got closer to the end of my program. It's good that I had that pressure; if I could have stayed in forever, I wouldn't have been as bold about asking to work with the people I wanted on the things I wanted to learn. I asked for help when I needed it. And when that went well (it really did), I let the courage spill over a little bit into other areas of my life. I sat down in one-on-one meetings with editors in June and pitched ideas for things that weren't even on the table. I told myself I was interviewing for jobs that people didn't know they were offering. And it paid off. This is not to say I'm out in the world shoving people around and demanding my due, but as a rule I'm pretty meek. I'm a wait-and-see girl, a hang back and let you choose which place we're going to eat at kind of person. Taking steps to ask for what I want is a big deal for me. I'm hoping I can continue to articulate what it is that I want, rather than being unhappy with what just ends up happening.

11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?

I didn't remember until I opened the post a few minutes ago, but my one word resolution last year was love with more intention:
I want to love harder, more consistently, more dependably. I want to choose to love people, even when I don't feel it. Especially when I don't feel it. I want to show my students love through how I teach them, and make an effort to connect to more of my colleagues. I want to reach out to people more who are lonely or hurting. I want to really live love when I'm spending one on one time with the people in all aspects of my life who mean so much to me. I want to love and celebrate every minute of my MFA program, and my writing, and the opportunities that have been set before me, rather than feel like they're chores. I know that word is cheesy as all get out, but I want to live a more active kind of love in practice in 2013.
I don't know how close I got to all the specifics, but 2013 ended up being pretty full of love. I certainly have a lot of love at home. And in my close-knit circle that supports me. Having more new people in my life  to love meant more love came back at me and into my life (sorry, I know this is getting a little bit Hallmarky), which is most definitely a good way to grow.

12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?

Spirituality is a tough thing to write about without getting either too weird for people or alienating them altogether. I've been in a strange place with my faith for a long stretch--or, I guess that's not right to say. I'm very clear about my faith and about God in my life, but I've been in a bind about how much of that to express, outwardly. Honestly, because most of the time I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm a Christian because of how so many Christians use that label as an excuse to act terrible. I feel like it's been a good year in Christians, though. In people keepin' it real, being smart, making it about love and the things that matter. (I'm looking at you, Pope Francis.) I suppose my own best growth when it came to faith this year had to do with trying to love people first, and worry about fixing myself, only. I don't think anything bad can come of that.

The other way that I think I grew, spiritually, is that I've come to try to manage my own anxiety by consciously making a place for stillness in my life. The older I get, the more I see that life wants to be busy, crazy-making. I feel more at peace when I have time to be quiet, to think and meditate on the things that matter.

13. In what way(s) did you grow physically?


This is the first year in a while when I can't make the joke that I "grew" physically because I gained weight. I actually lost weight. Hey! But it's not because I was an exercise beast. I did okay on the exercise front for the first half of the year, but the weight loss came from the stress of my final quarter of the MFA. I think the success I can claim here is that I didn't let things get too bad. My eating habits didn't completely go in the toilet (even with that summer-long addiction to Icees) and I remained kind of physically active. I don't think it will be too tough to go back to working out on a regular basis. Perhaps next year can be a year of physical growth.

14. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?


This is silly, but one of the best things in my life for building relationships this year has been good old fashioned snail mail. (I know calling it "snail mail" isn't old fashioned. I'm full of contradiction.) Last fall I started writing letters to a group of friends from my MFA program and a handful of my former seniors who were away at their first year of college. The letters I've gotten back have brought me so much happiness. And in many cases, the relationships I've built aren't with people I would have probably gotten close to, otherwise. Letter-writing has given me the opportunity to compose my thoughts, to add distance and time to difficult situations, to offer advice, to ask for advice, and to get to know some amazing people both older and younger than me. Plus, I love the act of writing a letter, addressing (and decorating) the envelope, choosing the right stamp... I'm such a nerd for mail. It has been an incredible gift. I look forward to starting back up again in the new year, and to (hopefully) adding a few new pen pals, too.

15. What was the most enjoyable area of managing your home?

Um. We get by. I continue to be happy that we can have someone come twice a month and help us out with the deep cleaning. I didn't really enjoy managing our home so much this year. When I'm home in the summer, I like making things run well, but most of the year the house was just stress. I tried not to think about it much this year.

16. What was your most challenging area of home management?

The frigging cat box, which I am always forgetting.

17. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?

The frigging cat box. I'm kidding.

I think this was my best year, ever, in time management. I can tell you e-x-a-c-t-l-y how long it takes me to do anything. Yes, anything. It's all on my calendar. I'm one of those. But that's what got me through. If I sit here and try to think about how I wasted time, the only thing I can really come up with is sleep. But I need that, right? Or TV--that's what Eric would say for me. But I feel like I can justify my down time, too. There's no person alive who can keep going at 100% for all of their waking hours. So yeah, I watched some Chopped. Some Ina. Some Good Wife. Some Watch What Happens Live. Some Real Housewives of Orange County. Some other things that are ridiculous. But I needed a brain break.

18. What was the best way you used your time this past year?


Reading, writing. Talking to the monkeys about their days.

19. What was the biggest thing you learned this past year?

"Someone gets to do it. Why not you?"

20. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2013 for you.

One page, one book, one day at a time. It adds up eventually.


  1. I love your reflection posts. They challenge me to look at my life and see what changes I want to make for me and the littles and my hubby. You have accomplished so much in the amount of time that I've been lucky enough to read your blog and you are a HUGE inspiration. Congratulations on the MFA and moving forward to your next step.