In 2017, I created a sporadically updated, colorful spreadsheet to visualize how I was spending my year. The spreadsheet had rows for every project or gig, and was color-coded based on what type of work it represented. A few months into 2018, I flippantly added a new row—"Life Shit"—to acknowledge the time and energy that went into moving apartments for the first time in 5 years.
In the end, it's the ebbs and flows of "Life Shit" that ended up really defining my year which, to be perfectly honest, really sucked a big one despite plenty of magical moments and enviable accomplishments. My 2018 was upheaval and precarity and reckoning, with a heavy blanket of stagnation and paralysis laid on top. There was death and frustratingly difficult to diagnose illness in my family. My best friend caught a stray bullet in the leg while walking back from lunch (thankfully, he's fully recovered now). Only Instagram prevented me from getting Lyme disease.
Of course, there's an upside too—it's a year that forced me to work on myself and my relationships, to re-evaluate how and with whom I spent my time and energy, to fight to live and work and play with more intention. But at the same time, I also feel absolutely drained from just keeping my head above water. Good riddance, 2018.
It was a stop-and-go year for me in terms of productivity. In April, I looked up from 5 years of freelancing (and less than a year of starting Magpie Kingdom) and realized that something really wasn't working. I took the summer to garden, take care of myself and my chosen family and my finances, and re-examine everything. By September, I finally felt like I had gotten my bearings again—but I'm still in the process of figuring out where I'm going next. Hoping to land that plane in 2019.
Work-related outputs for the year include:
- Published 10 Magpie Digest posts about: 2017, a viral dating sim game, the hip hop ban, the anti-marriage movement, anti-takedown maneuvers, "Juyoncé", gaokao memes, Steam coming to China, snitching in the underground fanfic community, and web novel IP
- Served as the jury chair for the 2018 IXD Awards. I am featured in a video about the winner of the Future Voice Award, as well as a video about my own work (both directed by Christian Svanes Kolding)
- Gave a talk at TheNextWeb (edited and reprised at Intercorp Fest) called The Unicorns of China
- Wrapped up my 5th year of teaching Entrepreneurial Design at SVA IXD, then worked with Gary to put together an archive of our teaching materials, clarify our purpose, and launch the next phase
- Delivered the closing keynote at the SVA IXD Thesis Festival, which was basically a commencement speech
- Worked on 6 client projects, doing everything from research to training to scenario planning. Thanks to the Magpie Kingdom team, Matt Ranen and Jonathan Star, Big Spaceship, and Subculture for being lovely collaborators this year.
Projects & Explorations
- The biggest side project I undertook this year was starting an edible garden in my new backyard. I barely had experience keeping houseplants alive, so there was a lot to learn. I give my first year a B- in terms of output, but having a hobby that was both infinite and low-stakes (and produced FOOD!) was extremely helpful as I worked through my career stuff.
- I joined the board of Public Lab and the advisory board of China Residencies.
- Spiciness: Alongside Kate Ray, Katherine Pan, Jenn de la Vega, Sougwen Chung, Zoya Feldman, and Maureen Evans, I helped to create Lao Gan Magazine, a zine celebrating China's favorite mass-market chili sauce. I also helped out with the launch of Fly by Jing's delicious Sichuan Chili Crisp on Kickstarter however I could, mostly to help ensure that I always have steady access to the stuff.
- There's a project around encouraging personal divestment from fossil fuels that is still incubating.
- I attended a bunch of workshops that piqued my interest (including mycoremediation and facilitation for participatory democracy).
- I redirected my media consumption habits towards learning: bae got me into watching educational YouTube videos at home, and I worked to ensure a drip of new knowledge despite cutting down on my Twitter usage. My favorite newsletter for this is Patrick Tanguay's Sentiers.
- I finished 16 books this year and partially read 5 more—about the same as last year, but much more nonfiction.
- Travel: After a few years of mostly traveling only for fieldwork in China, I rediscovered the importance of loose, exploratory travel this year thanks to some far-flung talk opportunities. New places I visited for the first time this year included: Paris + Lyon, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Lima + Sacred Valley + Machu Picchu, Hudson (NY), St. Georges (Grenada), Vatican City, Florence + Orvieto (Italy)
Despite the overall crappiness, this year really had its moments. Off the top of my head:
- Watching Davone perform at the Palais Garnier, aka the Phantom of the Opera's opera house
- The perfect day wandering the canals in neb's boat in Amsterdam with an array of wonderful people
- Gardening, BBQing, dancing, and walking the cat in our new backyard
- Small online communities and repeated gatherings were very healing for me: shoutout to Infrastructure Slack, Salad Days, Gerxin's bread brunches, ladies' poker night
- One (1) perfect beach day at the end of the summer to celebrate Blake's recovery
- Climbing to the top of Machu Picchu mountain (and basically crawling backwards back down)
- Discovering the magic of Pervuian single-bean chocolate
- My first scuba dive off the coast of Grenada
- Eating all of the pasta with my parents in Italy
I am finishing this year very rich in lessons learned, thanks in large part to working with a wonderful coach for the second half of the year. Coaching was a scary investment to make in myself, but it felt worth it at the time (and now!) to get myself out of a deep rut.
- It is hard to do work that I don’t believe in the impact of—even when I love the work itself and can find value in it!—at a time of such deep, multidirectional crisis.
- I need to accept my own rhythms—there will be unproductive days and sick days, and it's better to embrace those than fight it. That said, when stuck in a rut of multiple listless days, look for joy & play.
- Wealth can serve as a shortcut to community power, but using it malnourishes opportunities for community.
- Space (for living and work) is important, and it is worth fighting to keep mine pleasing & conducive.
- I am at my best when I am being playful and curious.
- Molting takes energy.
- I need to know when to throw myself in, and when to just be a line cook. Not all projects require the former.
- "To do good, work well, and lie low is the way of the blessing." - Ursula K. LeGuin (2018)
- Invest your energy into what you want to see grow. - adrienne maree brown
- "The first draft isn't supposed to be good, it's supposed to be out of your head." - Warren Ellis