How Are You All Doing?

My day-to-day life hasn’t changed all that much since we all started self-isolating; I work from home and live by myself, so I was reasonably self-isolated to begin with. I mean, I’m well aware that I’m not interacting with people the way I used to — I’m not going to the YMCA, I’m not going to choir rehearsal, I’m not getting coffee with other writers, and I’m not even visiting my parents (they’re doing fine, by the way).

On the other hand, I was already good at interacting with people on Slack, FaceTime, and Skype (for both business and personal purposes) so… you know… a little more of that, a little less of the face-to-face, a long walk every afternoon after work, and otherwise my life is pretty much how it always was.

What about you? I’m pretty sure my situation is fairly atypical — so if you’d like to share yours, the comment section is open. ❤️

Also, here are some of the resources I’m referring back to every morning:

The Financial Times’ coronavirus tracking data (includes lots of curves at varying stages of flatness or growth)

The New York Times’ coronavirus cases by U.S. county (my county’s cases jumped from 42 to 71 in the past 24 hours, which I know is still a lot better than many places, but we didn’t see our first confirmed case until March 21 and I suspect our curve will trend upwards for a while)

Mathematician Brenda Fine’s Twitter feed (lots of info on whether the numbers are moving in the direction we want them to move, and how we can tell whether social distancing efforts are working)

Back From Vacation (and Thoughts on Disney World)

Hi, everyone! I am glad to be back, and even gladder that I scheduled a few “recuperation days” after my travel; I was supposed to get back to Cedar Rapids on Monday evening, but thanks to flight delays didn’t end up getting back until Tuesday afternoon, which meant I had two days in a row of not-enough-sleep and too-much-airport (plus jet lag).

It took me until Thursday to feel well-rested again, at which point I spent half the day cleaning out my inboxes and processing all of the work-related stuff that had arrived or accumulated during my absence.

That meant I was ready to start officially working again on Friday — which is to say, today.

But enough about all of that. HOW WAS THE TRIP, NICOLE?

Here are a few photographs to sum it up:

The requisite Disney PhotoPass “glamour shot.” I actually got a bunch of PhotoPass pictures at various locations but only paid for this one; the other photographers didn’t pose me first and the photos didn’t look as polished.
I tried a character breakfast this time around, after being way too nervous to approach characters on previous Disney adventures. The characters play to type, which means that Mary Poppins gave me a lecture and Pooh gave me a hug.
The food was… not as great as all those Instagrammers made it out to be. It was fine, but nothing I’d call “outstanding.” (Think Applebees, or a college cafeteria.) It photographs extremely well, though.

Since I am all about transparency — though I understand that making this kind of statement is a total “your privilege is showing” move — I’ll tell you that I like Disneyland a lot more than Walt Disney World.

That is, I came back from this vacation thinking “well, I don’t ever need to go back here again.”

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy myself. I did! There were a handful of truly magical moments, nearly all of which took place around 7 a.m. before the parks got both incredibly crowded and incredibly hot.

But it was a completely different experience than my previous Disneyland trips, and I wasn’t expecting that.

I thought it would be, like, visiting this place I loved, only now it’s larger and has more stuff to do.

It was more like this place is so big that we can’t do everything and we’ve spent so much money that we won’t be able to come back for a while and it’s so hot and the lines are so long and everything is a disappointing compromise and I didn’t want our vacation to be this way.

And this, by the way, wasn’t even what I was thinking. It’s what half the people around me were saying out loud, as we moved slowly through the crowded streets or inched forward in the standby lines.

I was thinking this place is fascinating and people are fascinating and I probably shouldn’t be listening to their conversations so closely but I don’t care and it is so hot I am sweating in places that I didn’t know had sweat glands.

I love the whole Disney immersive crafted experience thing, which is one of the reasons I’ve been to Disneyland multiple times as an adult and am still planning on visiting every Disney park in the world.

But when you enter Disneyland, the courtyards are open, spacious, inviting you to explore. There’s just enough to do that you can do everything in two days, with enough time for an afternoon nap.

When you enter the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, you get shunted down a path, with fewer open spaces. There’s so much to do that you’ll never do it all; thanks to the crowds and the FastPass system, you have to make choices about what you’ll give up before you even arrive.

And, honestly, I loved that part of Disney World — the big exciting spreadsheetable project, making plans about what to do and where to eat and how much to spend, but that’s because I assumed it would stop feeling like a project after I got there.

It doesn’t.

Now I’ll tell you about some of the magical moments.

The resort was outstanding. Port Orleans Riverside was beautiful, the nature trails were beautifully relaxing, and I saw magnolia trees for the first time.

Like many other people, I was completely blown away by Animal Kingdom’s Pandora section and the entire Flight of Passage experience, which included a 90-minute queue. There was so much to look at, with so much detail, that I never felt bored or impatient. Nor was I tempted to play with my phone (that was one of the best parts of the trip, by the way; staying off my phone).

My favorite part, however, was Extra Magic Hour at Hollywood Studios. I went in ready to rope drop Tower of Terror, since I wanted to get over my fear of falling 13 stories as quickly as possible, but the ride was shut down for the entire day. Slinky Dog Dash was also shut down that morning, which meant the lines for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and Toy Story Midway Mania were well over an hour long. (Only the big headliner rides are open during Extra Magic Hour, and the Disney sites claim that if you’re quick enough, you can do all of them. This was never the case in reality.)

So while everyone else was waiting in line, I went in the other direction and began exploring the park. Like, “get up close, read the fine print on the MuppetVision 3D signage” exploring. I looked up, to see the jokes and references Disney placed at the tops of the buildings; I spent time examining structures that I might otherwise rush by. There was something magical or unexpected or humorous everywhere I looked, until Extra Magic Hour was over and the park got too crowded to stand still and look carefully at anything anymore.

That’s one of the reasons why I like going to Disney alone. If I’d gone with a group of people, we’d probably have queued for Midway Mania instead.

That said, the next time I go to Disneyland — and I will go back to Disneyland, though I’m somewhat ambivalent about returning to Disney World — I’d like to go with family or friends.

I’ve experienced the magic for myself. Now it’s time to share it. ❤️

NEXT WEEK: how much I spent, plus some of those spreadsheets y’all asked for.

The Work You Do While You’re Waiting

So after getting really excited about Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign (and his plan to give every American a $1,000/month Freedom Dividend, plus Medicare for All) I began picturing the future.

I saw myself going to Yang Gang meetings in Cedar Rapids.

Attending the Iowa Caucus, which I’ve never done before.*

Standing in a room filled with balloons and pizza boxes and all the friends I’d made along the way, watching election returns.

But it’s going to be a long time before any of that happens, if it even ends up happening. The Iowa Caucus isn’t until February 3, 2020. A year from now.

A year from now, I might be sending advance copies of NEXT BOOK to industry reviewers. I’ll be one year closer to my goal of being financially independent by 47.** I’ll have been part of at least three and maybe four Chorale Midwest concerts, including our upcoming performance of the Brahms Requiem with Orchestra Iowa. I’ll have taught more classes and written more articles and connected with more people and done many of the things I’m currently hoping I can accomplish.

And my mind has given me pictures of what all of this could look like, down to what I’m wearing and how long my hair might be.***

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that generating a highly detailed mental image of the future you want for yourself actually eliminates that future from the realm of possibility.

Every conversation you rehearse in your head is a conversation that will never take place as rehearsed

You’ve had those conversations in your head, right? You imagine yourself saying something, and then you imagine someone else saying something, and so on?

At some point — and I don’t know exactly how I put this together — I realized that every conversation I imagined was a conversation that would never take place in the real world.

Because people aren’t ever going to follow the script I wrote in my head.

So every time I imagined a conversation where I set a boundary and then someone else got really angry with me (for example), I reminded myself that by generating the conversation in my brain, I had pretty much guaranteed that it wouldn’t happen in real life.

This isn’t to say that the other person might not be upset or disappointed with the boundary I set. But they probably wouldn’t react at the level I had imagined, and they definitely wouldn’t use the exact words I had written for them.

Likewise, I might in fact end up wearing a Yang 2020 T-shirt to an election party, but the party will never look exactly like the one I’m currently dreaming.

Nor will NEXT BOOK look exactly the way it did when I first thought it up. I can follow the plot structure I outlined for myself, and build an emotional journey for the reader that’s similar to the one I had when I told myself the story I wanted to tell, but it will still be a different book than the one I initially imagined, because exposing something to the world always changes it.

(This is why so many stories include antagonistic forces — parents, governments, societies — that try to prevent people from learning about the world.)

You can’t have the future you imagine, but you can work towards the future you want

So. Creating some mental image of my sitting at a table with a stack of NEXT BOOK next to me, ready to sign copies for a queue of readers, does in fact guarantee that this particular scenario will never happen.

But it doesn’t prevent a similar scenario from happening.

It doesn’t prevent me from doing the part of the work that might someday get me to that table with that stack of books, e.g. spending one hour, Monday through Friday, working on my current draft.

And when that part of the work is done, turning that hour into editing-and-revisions time.

And, because that part of the work isn’t so far in the future that I have to imagine what it might be like, I can decide what it will be like. Right now. When it will happen and where I will sit and whether I’ll turn my phone and email off while I work.

Likewise, I can decide that today I’m going to do my bit for Yang 2020 by sharing the link to Andrew Yang’s Reddit AMA (which will take place at 2:30 Eastern today, go ask him anything), and I’m also going to share a fun article with my mom on Facebook, and tomorrow I’m going to ask my sister and nephew if they want to do a FaceTime call this weekend.****

HERE’S WHERE IT GETS REALLY INTERESTING

This method works for the bad stuff as well as the good stuff. That terrible scenario you imagine happening to your job or your loved ones or your small business? Those hours/days/weeks you spend waiting to hear back from doctors or lawyers or potential employers? Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Whatever horrible thing you just imagined will never happen. Or, at least, not in exactly that way. No, it won’t happen in the slightly different other way you imagined either. It might still be stressful and difficult and complicated and a lot of work, but it won’t be whatever you just visualized. It can’t be.
  • You can still do small things, every day, to get yourself closer to the experiences you want to have right now — the tasks you want to prioritize, the connections you want to strengthen, the time you want to take to care for yourself, etc. — and those experiences will help you deal with the hours/days/weeks ahead.

I’ve found this to be one of the truest things about life I’ve ever learned. The balance of what you can’t control and what you can.

So that’s what I’m thinking about this morning, mostly because last night I was thinking about how long it was between now and next year, and how I didn’t want to have to wait for what I wanted.

Then I reminded myself that I didn’t have to wait to write another 1,000 words of my draft, or pitch another client, or send my mom something nice on Facebook, or any of the stuff that I thought I wanted in the future but actually wanted — and could go after — right now. ❤️

*I grew up in the Midwest (before leaving to bounce from one coastal city to another and then decide to move back), but I did not grow up in Iowa. My hometown is actually in rural Missouri, a two-hour drive from where I live now.

**My current projections indicate it’s more likely I’ll hit financial independence — aka “the point at which I can live off my investments” — by 50, but that’s just incentivizing me to try to beat that target.

***I’m growing out a pixie cut. “How long my hair might be” is a relevant concern.

****Why not do all of this stuff today? Because you can’t do everything today. Nobody can.

On Drafting and Clearing the Path

The NEXT BOOK draft is currently 2,648 words long, which — since I’ve had three scheduled work sessions so far — is coming out to roughly 883 words an hour.

Since this type of book tends to be around 80,000–90,000 words long, I could be finished with the draft in as soon as 90 hour-long work sessions, or 17 weeks from now.

Late June.

Part of me wants to turn this into a goal, and it may end up being something I achieve simply by virtue of consistent output, but the other part of me is all just find your way through this draft. Don’t force it.

Because I know, three sessions in, that the process of drafting NEXT BOOK will be very different from the process of drafting The Biographies of Ordinary People.

For whatever reason — and I think part of it was because I tried to write Biographies five different times before I actually wrote it — the Biographies draft came out fully-formed. It needed a little revision, of course, but no major restructuring. The writing process felt like walking down a path that I had already cleared for myself.

My current writing process feels like clearing the path.

In both cases I went in with an outline and a bunch of character work, so it’s not like I don’t know where the path leads, or who’s on the path.

It’s more like I’m discovering what the path looks like as I find it, one step at a time.

Which means that the 811 words I wrote this morning gave me new clarity that I need to go apply to the previous 1,837 words, although I don’t want to do too much revising yet because I bet that the next 800 words will also clarify details that should be included in the preceding 2,648 words.

For lack of a better metaphor, it’s kind of like me saying “the path is covered by leaves,” and then 800 words in it’s “the path is covered by red oak leaves,” and then it’s “the path is covered by red oak leaves that have turned brown and started to decay at the edges,” and then “the path is covered by decaying red oak leaves and patches of new grass,” and so on. Add in what it smells like and whether there are any birds and what the sunlight is doing and… you get the idea.

The more time I spend on the path, the more I understand what it’s made of.

So that’s where I am, three writing sessions into NEXT BOOK. I already feel like writing this story is like slipping into another world, which is the best part of writing for me. (I felt that way about Biographies, too.) At this stage, it is play; exploring, creating, describing, experiencing, feeling, seeing. The same immersive experience I used to have with my Barbies and paper dolls, making up stories with my sister and my friends.

But NEXT BOOK isn’t just about me getting to play my way through it. It’s also something I am creating for you, which means I need to go back and add in all the detail I discover as I’m working on it, so you’ll get a similar immersive experience when you read it.

That’s what I’m thinking about, this morning. ❤️

The Morning After

I started writing NEXT BOOK this morning.

I know I’d been hinting that I was going to start writing, and that I was ready to start writing, but once I knew what was going to happen with The Billfold I realized that the best way to transition from “my life as it has been for the past five years” and “everything that might come next” would be to finish up my work with The Billfold and start my novel the following morning.

(Not that The Billfold’s work is finished, precisely. I still have to close out The Billfold LLC, but that’s just shutting down a handful of accounts and filing some paperwork with the state of Iowa. And paying for it, because you can’t open or close a business without paying a bunch of people.)

My most recent tarot reading — which was finally not about death — suggested that I pull back on the WORKING SO HARD ALL THE TIMES and, for the next lunar cycle, focus on my dreams and creating new things and being emotionally open with people.

The reading also suggested that I finish up all of this outstanding business-and-tax stuff and stash any money left over in my SEP IRA, which I was already planning to do.

So, in the name of being emotionally open with people, I’ll share the two pieces of music I had on constant repeat during this whole Billfold shutdown process.

Time is an illusion that helps things make sense
So we are always living in the present tense

It seems unforgiving when a good thing ends
But you and I will always be back then
You and I will always be back then

This one is pretty obvious. I put it in my earbuds and played it on my piano over and over. There’s a back then that will always exist, first as a memory of a place we wish we could return to, then as a memory of something fun we used to do together, and then just a memory.

Here’s the other one.

Everybody knows how this goes so let’s get over it
And let’s get this over with

After all the spelling mistakes
After all the groping in the dark
Can this page of strange gibberish
Get a final punctuation mark?

It shouldn’t be news, per se, that my experience of shutting down The Billfold has been a little different than the Billfolder experience. (And it’s not even completely over yet.) I went through the stages of grief about a month earlier than everyone else — and yes, you can go back through my emails and Slack chats and tick off every individual stage — but what isn’t popularly advertised is that there’s a seventh stage that comes after “acceptance,” and that stage is called “a bunch of administrative work.”

So yeah, I listened to “Let’s Get This Over With” a lot. Even though the thing I was trying to hasten to its end was something I loved.

But the other stage that comes after “acceptance” is “a wide open space that can be filled with dreams,” whether that’s an emotional space or, in my case, a literal space as well.

So I started writing my next book this morning. ❤️