Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand · Novel · PhD · Reflection

Looking Back and Ahead

Hello all, it’s been a wee while. (And this is a long one, I apologize in advance…)

2017 was a whirlwind of a year, in the global sense of ‘OMG what the hell is happening?’, but also on a personal level for me, since I had a bunch of milestones happen in the last six months. My last post here was in April, which makes sense, because once May rolled around it was like the roller coaster being released down the highest peak and there was no stopping it until, well, now I guess.

In May I flew to the US with my fiancé so he could go to a science conference and I could do early preparations for our wedding in August. We stayed in NYC for a few days, and then later my family had a bridal shower for me at home, which was so much fun. It was the first time I had seen a lot of my family since my dad’s funeral, so to have a happy occasion like that to celebrate was really wonderful.

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In June we were back in London, and later in the month my family came over to stay with us and come to my graduation. I finally received my PhD in art history! Not gonna lie, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. (Also I didn’t trip walking across the stage, so hey, victory!)

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It’s easy looking back on it now with hindsight, but some points of my PhD were the lowest of my life. I’ll always remember those long days where I’d teach and read and write (in between panic attacks), then prepare more lectures, workshops, and articles/conference papers at night, hoping that all of this extra work would pay off one day. I knew how competitive my field was, and how rare it is to actually find work, let alone well-paying work, in the arts/academia. So I took on all these extra roles and activities to get myself ahead of the game – or so I thought. Looks like most if not all of those things were just me running myself ragged in a wild goose chase, since they haven’t helped me at all so far, really.

And during my PhD I could never shake the feeling that it was all a waste, that I was a failure because even though art history was the only thing I was good at in university, it isn’t valued in today’s society, and therefore wasn’t worth doing. Essentially, the only thing I was good at wasn’t good enough. So all of that guilt and shame and doubt, mixed with the anxiety and depression I was already struggling with, and dealing with the death of my dad at the start of my PhD, made finishing it and graduating this year all the more meaningful. It wasn’t an easy road, and while I have some regrets, I’m still glad I did it. Even if I accomplish nothing else in my life, at least I have my PhD.

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July and early August were a rush of getting things ready for the wedding, and when we flew to the states in mid-August, it felt surreal. Our family and friends traveled to my little hometown from all over the globe, and it was a strange and wonderful meeting of worlds. The wedding was a blur of nerves and pictures and an internal monologue of ‘omg don’t trip, posture, posture, don’t trip, smile’. Everything went smoothly though, and we had some really lovely moments together.

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The reception was busy and fun, with lots of dancing and hugging and really sweet speeches by our maid of honor and best man. For any future brides or grooms out there, my three pieces of unsolicited advice would be: 1) eat a big breakfast because you’ll barely get to eat throughout the day; 2) something will inevitably go wrong, but try not to freak out because most likely no one will notice anything’s gone wrong except you; and 3) find a photographer you love. I’m so glad we found a photographer who we really connected with, and whose style was exactly what we wanted. Believe me, the day is such a happy blur, you will barely remember it happened, so those photos will help to center your memories of that day for all the years to come.

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Our honeymoon was mostly unplanned, which was kinda stressful for a Type-A planner like me, but it was also really exhilarating. We flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico, rented a car, and took off west into the desert. Over the next week we visited a massive radio observatory, saw the sunrise at Monument Valley, took cheesy photos at the Grand Canyon, sweated buckets in Phoenix, chilled by the pool in San Diego, blew away the cobwebs (and speed limits) on an eight-hour drive north through California, and explored San Francisco in a record-breaking heatwave.

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It was an incredible trip, but our favorite part was seeing the sunlight break over the rock formations at Monument Valley, the sudden burst of golden light illuminating everything around us. And I’ll never forget zooming down endless desert roads with no one else around, surrounded by red rocks and the unforgiving sun. Or the endless night skies with the Milky Way arching above.

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September, October and November were a scramble of getting back into work and our routines. I’ve been applying for new jobs every week, and trying to stay on top of my writing and reading, but I definitely need to be more disciplined with them. In mid-December my mom visited us, and we did lovely Christmassy things. Then my husband’s (that’s still weird to say…) parents stayed with us for Christmas itself. Now I finally feel like I can look back on the year and breathe a bit.

I know this year has been terrible for so many people all over the world, and it’s just so infuriating what’s happening in the US and UK right now. So in that grander perspective, I really don’t have anything to complain about. I have a lot to be grateful for, and I am.

I was so inspired by fellow Muse Nicole’s recent post on her new goals for 2018, so I want to lay mine out too. Writing is my biggest goal for the new year, because I wasn’t able to stay disciplined with my writing alongside everything else I had going on this year. Now I don’t have the same excuses, so if I’m serious about writing (and I am), I need to put the words on the page. I also wrote similar resolutions for our newest Muses reflections post, where you can find the goals of the other Muses too!

WRITING

  1. Finish editing HONORS and send it out in more queries. My first (small) round of querying was scary but also really thrilling. And the rejections I got didn’t affect me as much as I thought they would, I think in part because I’ve been receiving almost weekly rejections on job applications, so I’ve got a thicker skin in that regard. But I really care about HONORS and getting it into a better state, so I need to finish implementing those big picture changes that I think will make the story better and the characters stronger. DEADLINE: January 31st.
  2. Fix and finish THE DEVIL’S BELT. I’ve started and stopped this novel so many times, I don’t know if it’s even worth finishing, but since I can’t seem to quit it, I think owe it to myself to finish at least a first draft. I’m aiming for 100,000 words, and with the help of WriteTrack – thanks for the rec Nicole! – hopefully I can get there. (Also I’m mamcrosbie on there if anyone wants to be accountability buddies!) DEADLINE: March 31st.
  3. Start a new project. This year, even if I wasn’t writing every day (or every week….) I did manage to brainstorm some new novel ideas, despite thinking I’d never have another idea ever again. The one that’s captured my imagination the most is set in 17th-century Venice. It will feature courtesans, disgraced noblemen, witchcraft, opera, scandals, intrigue, and assassins. My latest short story for Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand is a snippet from that world with a few of those characters, but I’m not sure if that scene will feature in the novel exactly. The characters will also intersect with some of the people from HONORS, if I can wrangle the plot/timelines together (damn historical fiction with its facts and dates…). BUT I don’t want to set a deadline for this yet, because I want to make sure I finish HONORS and BELT first, and then I’ll move on to new things.
Bonus Ben Tallmadge/Seth Numrich just because

READING

  1. Read every day. Just like Nicole said in her post, I want to start keeping books with me everywhere I go. I have two big stacks of half-read or just-started books on my nightstand, and I really need to get my reading brain back in gear. I can tell I need to refill my creative well, but I was so caught up in family and planning all the events last year (along with the dumpster fire of world news) that reading got pushed back as a non-priority. But I need to MAKE it a priority again, just like my writing. GOAL: Read two books each month.

FITNESS

  1. Get back into a weekly yoga practice. This one is tricky for me. I’m pretty lazy in general. I hate running on its own, I’d rather play a team sport or take a dance class (or kickboxing!) but I can’t afford any of those right now. Yoga is I think the best way for me to improve my strength and flexibility while also helping me to manage my anxiety, so hey if I can kill two birds with one stone from the comfort of my own home, yes please! I found a great series of yoga sessions online, so I just need to make sure I commit to it. I’ll say twice a week for now, but I definitely need to do it at least once a week. That, plus my 90 minutes walking to and from work every other day is a pretty good start I think. Then maybe if I can get a full-time job this year, I can afford to take classes or join a team. GOAL: Yoga twice a week.

BLOGGING/SOCIAL MEDIA

  1. Post more regularly. Again, this one is tricky for me because I still struggle with thoughts of “This is dumb, no one cares about this” or “This is silly, I don’t need to post about this”, but at the same time, I really value the connections I’ve made via social media, so I want to keep up my regular contacts and posts as best I can. I waste a lot of time on Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter, but I want to be more proactive and less of a passive consumer on there. I want to do more for our Muses blog, and get more viewers by posting more widely on different platforms. I want to improve my skills with other programs and platforms, and keep a fairly consistent schedule here too. I did pretty well with posting once a month early last year and in 2016, so I’ll start with that again and see how I get on. I think blogging here helps to hold myself accountable for all these goals too. GOAL: Post once a month on personal blog, post once a week for Muses (either a story or signal-boosting), increase positive interactions on other platforms.

I’ll reassess my goals and progress come March, and set new resolutions for the next three months. I think it will be less overwhelming for my brain to break everything into three month chunks.

Ok I’ll wrap this up, thanks so much for reading! It really means a lot. Thanks to everyone who’s read and commented here and on the Muses blog, I’m so excited to see what we come up with for this year!

I’d love to hear some of your resolutions and goals for 2018. I know it’s cliche, and come February I might have slipped a little, but I hope I can keep up these new good habits and get rid of some of my bad ones.

Here’s to a new year!

Love,

M

 

PS – If you made it this far, seriously, thank you for reading. Here’s a dancing Dean as a reward.

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6 thoughts on “Looking Back and Ahead

  1. I enjoyed this entire post, right down to the dancing Dean (can’t get enough of that dork!). Your goals are so detailed and concrete, I could practically feel your determination oozing from the screen! Looking forward to more blogging adventures with you, and I’m totally rooting for you on your WiPs. Also, that new plot bunny sounds INSANELY EXCITING. I need to get my hands on it already!!

    Your 2017 was definitely eventful, and I’m still in love with your wedding photos! Here’s hoping 2018 brings you all the wonderful things you deserve. If nothing else, you’re armed with your PhD, your never-say-die attitude, and your creativity and storytelling chops!!

    Love,
    Joyce xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gosh, I just loved this post. And I hope you can remember, whenever you’re writing a blog post or considering it, and then your brain goes, “This is dumb,” that you have at least one fan over here (me) who loves reading every post you write.

    Can’t wait to support you throughout 2018 as your goals shift and evolve and, at the end of the year, to see all you’ve achieved and how much you’ve grown.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Nicole! Your support means the world ❤

      I always find that really motivating, to think ahead to the end of the year and how I want to feel about what I've accomplished. That saying 'One year from now you'll wish you had started today' always gives me a kick in the pants. On that note, I should probably go write 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You always have it! ❤

        That's a great way to look at it, too! Instead of being like, "Man, I hope I accomplish this," thinking, "Whoa, I can't wait accomplish this." It's crazy how far a little change in mindset goes.

        Go, go! I believe in you and know you can make the 31st deadline!

        Liked by 2 people

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