Today I’m celebrating being on this planet for three decades. I’m pretty excited about it. Last year, when I turned 29, I panicked a little about it being the last year I could really lay any sort of reasonable claim to youth. My grandparents’ generation is almost gone in my family and both my parents retired and it seemed like it was maybe time to stop watching Kim Possible and wearing jeans to work every day and take on a little bit more responsibility. But when the panic subsided, it actually turned into a pretty good year. I tried a few things I never had before and learned a lot from all of them.
Knitting and blogging
I can’t declare these a total success since I took time off from both these things over the summer. Still, there’s been a lot of progress. Even though I learned to knit when I was younger, it’s only over the last couple of years that I’ve started bigger projects. After making socks for my entire immediate family last Christmas, I ended up taking on a sweater, a couple of shawls including my first lace project and lots of socks. Each project seemed to involve new techniques.
I haven’t blogged about this, partly because I just reached my goal weight and everyone knows that maintaining weight is as hard or harder than losing it, so it probably makes sense to do a more thoughtful and reflective post in a year if this success is still holding. I also was leery of blogging about this because I do have a number of friends who talk about dieting a lot and I’ve always found it incredibly boring.
I didn’t initially intend to lose weight, even though I’ve been about 15 pounds overweight for quite some time. I’ve been that heavy even back when I used to swim competitively at a pretty elite level and I’m still around the weight I was in high school, so I never worried much about it. I was happy with how I looked and I worked out regularly and felt pretty healthy.
But I’ve always had a bit of a sweet tooth and also had problems with blood sugar crashing and it seemed that both of these things were becoming more and more problematic, making it hard to work late or irregular hours. So I decided to try keeping track of my sugar intake. This being 2012, it turns out there’s an app for that. And it also turns out that I was taking in more than my RDI of sugar just at breakfast some days with a giant bowl of Raisin Bran.
I may write a separate post at some point about various stages I went through and revelations I came to (as I say, if the results hold up). But for now I’m happy to report that I went from 189 pounds to, as of a couple of days ago, 165, which for 5′ 8.5″, puts me in the “healthy” category of BMI. I know lots of people will tell you BMI is nonsense, a vague correlate with body fat, average for the population, lots of outliers if you’re muscular which I like to think I am. But it feels good to be able to say I’m in the healthy range now regardless of that and I’m even happier with how I look and feel.
This one kind of snuck up on me. I wanted to be a writer as a kid, lots of ideas, etc. And one bit of advice I’d seen online about turning 30 was “Hey, time to write that novel you’re always thinking about.” How did they know that? I guess because it’s not that uncommon for people to wander around with what they think is a great novel idea. But very few people take the time to flesh it out and develop an actual plot.
As it happens, I was reading many of these posts about turning 30 near the end of October and November is National Novel Writing Month. And I figured “Why not?” I took one of the ideas I’ve had floating around forever and started to outline. I’ve always thought I was a big planner, but actually I think that’s my problem: if given infinite time, I would just rewrite bits of outline forever because I would never be prepared enough.
And that’s where Nanowrimo came in handy. Once November starts, you have to get 1667 words a day down (on average). I tried to stay ahead of the game, writing 2000 a day whenever possible. And it was really a revelation how much you can write this way, in relatively short chunks, and it isn’t that much time out of your day. I can’t say every word was a gem, but they really emphasize that it doesn’t have to be. The value of it seems to be in convincing you that first drafts don’t have to be great, but they do have to be written. Also, I learned the difference between having an idea and having a plot. BIG difference.
I even broke out of my introvert shell and went to an event. It was a walk around Mount Pleasant cemetery to hunt for character names (which is a great idea. I will always love the name Dalrymple and never would have come up with it on my own). And I got to meet fellow participants, which was interesting since most of them seemed to be returning Wrimos who could expertly summarize their plots and discuss their current problems and character dilemmas. At the midpoint of the walk, one girl took out a bag of leftover Hallowe’en candy and offered it around. It’s weird the things you do in a big city that would seem weird other places. I remember thinking afterward that I had just literally taken candy from a complete stranger, whom I had met as a result of recent discussion online, in a cemetery. It was like the trifecta of childhood warnings ignored.
Anyway, I technically “won” Nanowrimo since I wrote 50,000 words, but I still had about 10,000 words to get to the end I think. I said I would keep writing past the end of November to finish, but actually didn’t (sigh). I still may come back to it, although I’m not sure why. I don’t think what I wrote is really amazing or captivating, or even that it’s as strong or coherent an idea as I thought it was. But I think that was the most valuable lesson for me. A lot of the time I take things to seriously, as though if I’m not going to be the next Dostoevsky, there’s no point in writing anything. But the development of an idea and those moments when writing a scene and it really takes off, writing is incredibly fun. And when you start to stress about what it all means and whether it’s important enough and whether you’ll make people feel about reading the way all those really great books you’ve read have, you can’t have fun. You just have to write the things that inspire you and put yourself out there and maybe it works for other people and maybe it doesn’t.
That’s sort of the common thread in these experiences: I tried new things and that mostly paid off. Taking risks isn’t really my strong point; I don’t like setting myself up for possible failure. This is really holding me back for my biggest challenge in the coming year: a career path. The biggest thing that happened to me this year was I defended my PhD, which was a huge relief and my supervisor was kind enough to let me stay on with him afterward, leaving me in a comfortable enough spot to do a lot of these things. But the intention was that I would start looking for post-docs elsewhere and every time I think about it, I start to get stressed. What if I choose a project and find I’m not capable enough to finish it? What if I don’t get along with the people in the lab? What if I move somewhere and find it’s not bike-friendly and actually have to buy a car? All of these things keep me locked in indecision about where to apply or what I want to do.
But I need to remember that really it’s an opportunity. A short-term one since most post-docs are only a year or two. If it turns out I don’t like it, I can always find something else, but if you don’t take a chance, there’s no opportunity for anything new and great to happen to you. Why, just today a friend reminded me that if I find a post-doc in the States, there are way more opportunities for free shipping on yarn. How can that go wrong?
So, time to open myself up and be vulnerable to failing I guess. After 30 years, it’s about time I realized that that seems to be the only way you learn anything.
ETA: For some reason this didn’t actually post on my birthday even though it was scheduled to.