2015: My year in review

Unexpectedly, I have a lot of work to do over the next week or so. Therefore, if I’m going to do this, I figure I had better do it now…

The year 2015 was one of feast and famine. Yes, I said feast and famine: instead of things getting better or worse, some things got better, while others (mostly involving money, or the lack thereof) got worse. The result was a somewhat crappy year that I feel good about.

With 2013 being the year things fell apart (again), 2014 was the year I spent putting them back together (again). In some respects—particularly financially—that year cost me. The time and money I spent in pursuit of better health and greater peace of mind kept me from pursuing leads that would bring in more steady income, while steadily draining my limited cash reserves.

Fortunately, as 2014 came to a close, my efforts were paying off. Although I had no paying work until December, I was starting to feel better, and my anxiety was back under control.

So, I began 2015 with a renewed sense of optimism. Not only was I feeling better, I was starting to get more copy editing work. Not necessarily enough to pay all the bills, but it was a huge step up from the previous year’s pronounced lack of work.

Next, I started attending open-mic poetry readings. A friend invited me to the first one, which took place in January. Within a couple of weeks, I began seeking out other open-mic opportunities, and was soon attending several of them every month—one weekly (except for occasional schedule conflicts), and three monthly. (I have missed a few recently, what with unexpected busyness and the holidays, but am otherwise still going on a regular basis.)

In addition, I had made the decision just before the year started to make an effort to write something every day (which I was already almost doing), then post the best (or least horrible) of the day’s poems to my blog. Consequently, I was starting to accumulate a lot of material.

In March, I began attending a writing group. It was a little strange having my work examined so closely and critiqued in such detail, but the critiques gave me things to keep in mind when writing and editing my work. I quickly began to notice improvement in the quality of my poems.

That month, I published The Imperfect Document, the first of three poetry collections (plus my first ‘love notes to the days of the week’ journal) I would release during the year.

It was also around this time that I purchased a huge sketchbook to use for my writing. Although large, heavy, and generally inconvenient to carry around (I use a bag intended for a laptop computer), the enormous amount of space available on each page makes it so convenient for writing, doodling, and generally trying to work out ideas—plus, at 600 pages, it’s practically guaranteed to last several months (nine months later, I figure I have about six more weeks to go before it’s time to move on to the next one).

Meanwhile, my bank balance was dwindling. Fortunately, the extra work I was getting meant that the money was not disappearing as quickly as it would have otherwise. I might actually not run out of cash as soon as I was expecting to.

Then I heard back from one of the local creative talent agencies in response to the resume I had sent in for a job they had posted. I went in for an interview, and it looked as though I might soon have more work coming my way.

Unfortunately, the optimism expressed by the recruiter I met with didn’t translate into that additional work I was hoping for. This was a bit of a problem, particularly since the copy editing work dried up towards the end of April.

It finally got to the point where my financial cushion was exhausted. I made it through June, several months past when I had originally anticipated running out of money. I had to make some changes—fast.

The first thing was to cancel the health insurance I had been paying almost $360 a month for—my largest non-grocery expense. Fortunately, I was already signed up for my state’s Medicaid program, so I wasn’t going to have to do without.

Next was to step up my search for more paying work. Although I wasn’t getting much response—more often than not I was getting no response—I was finding plenty of jobs to apply for.

I cut back on non-essential expenses, and began taking CDs and books from my collection to used shops. This turned out to be a very beneficial exercise. Not only did I get some cash for the books, CDs, and DVDs that would otherwise sit ignored on my bookshelves, but I also realized that I had been holding onto many of them for the wrong reasons. Nostalgia is one thing; nostalgia for bad times is quite another. By being willing to part with these artefacts from difficult times, I was allowing myself to finally let go of some of those episodes.

Then, although I hated to do it, I had to turn to my folks for help so I could continue to pay the rent, eat, keep the lights on, put gas in the car, and keep my two cats fed and happy. Fortunately for me, they were both understanding, and willing to help (if not exactly thrilled at having to do so).

All the while, the poems kept coming. Except for a five-day period in May (I think) where I deliberately took a break, I had been faithful to my daily writing-and-posting routine (as such).

Consequently, the books kept coming. In May, I turned the first 365 entries in my series of ‘love notes’ to the days of the week into the book ‘Dear Monday…’ My next collection of poems, Quiet on the Outside… followed in July, then Refusal to Remain Invisible in October.

Despite the pronounced lack of sales, these books provided me with opportunities to combine my various interests and talents—writing, editing, photography, graphic design—to produce something tangible.

Somewhere in the middle of all this middle-of-the-year stuff, I found another writing group to join. Although not as critical as the other writing group, it was nonetheless another chance to get feedback on my work. Even if nobody would come right out to say ‘you should change this line to —’, I could still get some idea of which parts of a poem had the most impact, as well as decide whether lines that might be unclear to one or two of the group members warranted editing that part of the poem. (It was also helpful that the first group I joined was having some scheduling difficulties, and thus had not met for two or three months.)

In August, an offer to work on a project that would encompass copy editing, audio editing, and possibly even some graphic design came my way. Unfortunately, there were delays, so I could not be sure how things were going to go.

While I waited, I put together what would become Refusal to Remain Invisible, my fifth collection of poetry. It was awfully soon after Quiet on the Outside…, but I had the material and the time. I deliberately took my time with the editing/proofing process, something I have been working to emphasize more. (Few things are more frustrating than finishing a project—only to find uncorrected errors in the ‘finished’ project.)

By this time, I had begun looking at competitions and grants, and had picked a couple to apply to. The one that looked the most exciting would entail spending a year abroad (specifically, outside the continent of North America). If I were to get it, I would have to find someone to take care of my cats, as well as somewhere to store my stuff—but I took my interest in this idea as evidence of just how far I had come during the last year.

I also learned something particularly interesting: the Pulitzer Prize is an open competition! I had always thought that the Pulitzer was like the Nobel Prize, where you have a committee and/or designated persons responsible for making nominations and determining recipients. It is actually an open competition that anyone who meets the criteria can enter—and, for the literary prizes, self-published works are eligible.

My first thought was that I should enter just because I could. After the $50 entry fee, the required copies of the work to be submitted, and the postage necessary to send everything in, I figured it would cost about $75 to enter. But no—that’s too much.

Still, I couldn’t help thinking: what if? Sure, my chances of even being nominated, never mind winning, would be miniscule—but what if?

In the end, I decided to go ahead and enter. First, I figured that, if nothing else, I’d get an anecdote out of it (and I’d get to laugh a lot while telling it). And I don’t know anybody else who has ever entered the competition for a Pulitzer Prize. Second, I figured that I owed it to myself to give myself that vote of confidence. However steep the odds might be, don’t I owe it to myself to give myself a chance, to put myself out there when I have the opportunity?

So, I entered Refusal to Remain Invisible (though Quiet on the Outside… may have been the better choice, in retrospect). Will it win, or even be nominated? Not likely. But I can say I put it out there for consideration.

One last nota bummer (as Julian Cope might put it): the insurer through which I have my medical coverage notified me in September that it would be dropping my physician from the program as of December 1. They have helpfully (ahem!) assigned me a new primary-care physician—but I have been seeing my current doctor for 23 years, so there’s no way in hell I’m going to switch doctors now. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. All I know at the moment is that my state’s Medicaid program is the only plan this insurer has dropped him from. (There has recently been speculation that this insurer will soon drop out of ACA coverage altogether.)

Car problems have also put a dent in things on a couple of occasions during the year—but I have managed to cover them without completely maxing out my one credit card. And, since my VW is not one of the TDI (diesel) models, it’s not affected by the emissions-related shenanigans revealed not too long ago, so I can be reasonably confident that I am not polluting more than my share of the air whenever I drive somewhere.

As 2015 comes to an end, things are looking up. My sixth collection of poems, Coffee Stains, is almost ready for publication in January. I will be one of the featured readers at poetry readings in January and February. That multi-faceted project I mentioned above finally started in mid-November, and could bring me quite a bit of work over the coming year—and it has already paid enough for me to be able to pay my January rent without parental assistance, and stock up on some Impossible film (albeit expired). Right now, I have two pieces in progress for that, plus two copy editing assignments from another client (with a third pending). This final week of the year is going to be—surprise!—busy.

I will finish off this bit of unedited prose with a couple of milestones:

First, my Flickr photostream recently passed 600,000 views, even though I have not been posting that many photos lately. To put this in perspective, I passed 150,000 views in September 2013, some seven years after joining Flickr. Apparently, folks love Polaroids; my Polaroids are the ones that get the most views.

Second, as of this writing, this blog is up to 558 followers. I don’t trust the other stats so much, since they routinely show more likes than views. In any event, it is gratifying to see people take an interest in my writing, and I always appreciate the feedback I get, whether in the form of likes or comments. Even though I find ways to share my work with others, the writing itself is still very much a solitary process.

Thank you all for reading this far. I will continue on in 2016, so please stick around.

(27 December 2015)


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