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.

Work

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:

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)

Highlights

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

Lessons Learned

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