The 2023 Plan (and why it's worth celebrating that I have one at all).
Lots of plans afoot! Before I get busy with them all, I thought I'd examine them one by one today; and also remark on this being my first yearly plan made since the pandemic began, and what that means for my wellness and emotional health.
#productivity #plan #year #annual #yearly #2023 #GettingThingsDone #GTD #covid #pandemic #wellness #mental #health #anxiety #stress #lexapro
Happy new year! As was my tradition for a long time before the pandemic began, for 2023 I have made a year-long plan for myself, or I guess I should maybe say “plan” in air-quotes/scare-quotes. For those familiar with David Allen's “Getting Things Done” time management system (which I've been implementing in my life for a whopping 18 years now and counting), this is basically the “50,000-foot overview” of my life and goals, not the biggest scope possible (that would be “the view from space,” as in, “What things define me?”) but almost so, and so is not a “plan” per se but rather a look at the general areas of my life I'd like to concentrate on over the next 12 months. After some kanoodling on this, then, I was able to break them down more into specific contexts (the “25,000-foot overview”), then into specific projects that might fit into those contexts (the “10,000-foot overview”). As the year continues, I'll then examine these projects each week, decide on which ones to work on that particular week, and break each one down into next steps for adding to my daily routine each day (the “ground-level overview” of one's life, now the lowest you can go, looking literally at only what you'll be doing with the next 24 hours of your life).
I have to be honest, it's just kind of remarkable to have a list again in the first place, after feeling so overwhelmed by life over the last two years of the pandemic as to not bother making a list at all (and of course with 2020's list abandoned soon after being made, because of the first pandemic lockdown happening in March of that year). Like millions of others, I haven't done very well mentally during the pandemic, suffering from excessive anxiety in my case, which only became an uncontrollable issue because the pandemic coincided with a number of other high-stress events in my life (such as my small press going out of business, my parents transitioning into assisted living, and me going from living by myself for decades to suddenly living with 20 near-strangers in a co-op, all of whom are twenty to thirty years younger than me and much more radically liberal as well). I haven't really been in the mood to talk much about it publicly, which I know is a disappointment for those of you who have been following my personal journal way back since the birth of the web in the mid-1990s, back when I was a full-time confessional writer for a living, but I can say that I eventually went on the anti-anxiety medication Lexapro last summer, after finally getting COVID myself last May and my anxiety spiking to an extremely unhealthily high level.
I'm feeling a lot more stabilized these days, so much so that I finally felt like being ambitious and trying to accomplish some year-long goals that will legitimately take twelve months to finish, so I'm glad to have this list and excited to share some of these interesting things that might hopefully be happening around here before the year is done (or at least by the time next summer rolls around, let's say, when fingers crossed the pandemic is finally over for good). Hopefully you're going to see me writing about all these subjects in a lot more detail over the next twelve months, listed in no particular order...
Health. This is one of the big ones, in that I have health insurance this year for the very first time as an adult, 35 years since the last time. So, I have a lot of things to take care of and that I want to take advantage of as soon as possible, such as getting a physical, getting a new audiologist exam and then new hearing aids, getting a new dental exam and then a new set of dentures, getting a new eye exam and then a new pair of glasses, taking care of some lingering health issues I've had for a while, etc. I then hope to supplement this by buying some home health monitoring equipment I don't yet own, like a cholesterol tester and the like, to add to my Fitbit and smart scale to do as much home monitoring of my health throughout the year as possible (because I'm a big believer in The Quantified Life when it comes to taking ownership of one's personal health). I already follow a mostly vegan, Mediterranean Diet-influenced eating plan, helped immensely by living at a co-op that does a shared group dinner seven nights a week, but this year I started adding a lot more protein to it, because I'm 53 and rapidly losing muscle definition, and adding more anti-inflammatory foods like berries and salmon, avocado and spinach, because I've had my first really painful flare-ups in this past year of what I suspect is the onset of arthritis in several foot and knee joints, and want to take care of it through lifestyle changes as much as I possibly can.
Money. Of course, the way I'm affording this health insurance is that friends have finally convinced me to go through Healthcare.gov, which got me heavily subsidized insurance since I make so little money; but to prove that, you have to file taxes, so this is the first year I'll do so in something like twenty years now, because previously I was making so little money that I wasn't even required to file. Things are going fantastic for me as a freelance book editor these days (but more on that in a bit), so I'll actually have substantial taxes to pay for the first time this year, but also my first opportunities to write things off my taxes, apply for grants, and the other things that come with being “back on the grid,” so to speak. So that's what I'm doing right now, taking “how to file freelancer taxes” courses at places like Skillshare, so I can have that done and finished by mid-March. Then I start paying off debts and building an emergency fund, then hopefully putting a fund together to go travel internationally in 2024 (but more on that in a bit). Keep your fingers crossed that I continue to get enough freelance work to pull all this off.
American Sign Language. It's time to start up the lessons again! Long-time readers will remember my adventures in learning ASL back in 2019, but the pandemic put a big stop to all that. This year I've bought a book from Galludet University that teaches specifically the 1,000 words/terms most used in conversational English; now that I know a pretty good amount about the history of the Deaf community, and the gestures and facial expressions and customs that go behind signing, my goal now is simply vocabulary extension, and a number of us have been wondering how to be able to enfold this into the larger community of 20 people plus friends here at the co-op. I figure if I can get these 1,000 signs down cold this year, I could at least be participating fully fluently in basic ASL conversations; if we could get it down then to just a hundred most crucial signs, something that could be learned in an intensive weekend or maybe four weekly workshops, that would get a huge portion of our house at least able to give directions or answer questions for a Deaf person, and that's one of my bigger goals around here, is to make our co-op more Deaf-friendly in general, just in any ways we can. As spring turns into summer, I hope to start finding some physical events to go to again, as far as sociality and simply practicing our signing; and I hope this year to find my first dedicated practicing partner too, someone who will get together with me (in person, on chat) literally every day or two to practice, practice, practice. (Interested? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.)
Around the home. Here at the co-op, I also hope to start getting in more one-on-one catch-up time with the people I live with, because it's hard to be a hearing-disabled person in an environment that's set up to only really work socially for those who have 100% full hearing. With my level of hearing, I still do pretty okay when it's a direct conversation with a person facing me, no more than a few feet away, and especially when I'm running my Google “Live Transcribe” app on my phone so to get live closed-captions; so I want to do this more often with the 20 people I live with, so I can at least maintain friendships around here and get caught up with how everyone is doing. Meanwhile, I'm still making the bread I learned how to make during my year-long class last year (being faithfully chronicled now at my new Mastodon account, but more on this in a bit), and I plan on claiming one of the 15 plots in our co-op's community garden again this year, and this time finally do what I was going to do last year but then had to abandon due to COVID, which is to grow an entire 10 by 3 foot plot of nothing but herbs to bake inside homemade bread (mint, basil, oregano, etc.), with the goal of getting a few others around here taught on breadmaking techniques so that we can have homemade loaves here every two or three days all year, packed with all these garden herbs throughout the year as well.
And then finally, back in spring of last year, I took possession of the last 10 boxes or so of stuff I still had at my parents' house where I grew up (after moving to assisted living right before the pandemic, my parents had to then wait another two years before they could begin cleaning out and selling their previous house), and I'm in the process of scanning all those childhood papers and ephemera at the high-quality, oversized flatbed scanner for free use at my neighborhood public library. (Shoutout to my homies at CPL's Blackstone branch, actually the very first public library in Chicago's history, back before the CPL actually existed, by a pork tycoon who fancied himself the next Andrew Carnegie, and so built this ridiculously ornate structure that has all these amazingly done murals in the front domed foyer.) I'll share those in a lot more detail once the entire project is finished later this year; but for now, here above are some examples of the beauty and horror that awaits you when you enter the Forbidden Files Of Jason Pettus' Childhood As Revealed By Forgotten Boxes of Crap In The Basement.
So I'm going to do one just for my freelance book editing, which is long overdue, which will essentially just have something like ten “entries” for the various pages of info I need for a freelancing site, but with a fixed page shown as the index anytime someone comes by, and the archives being presented as a “menu” across the top of every page. And I'm going to do one just for my “Tales From Winnemac” Cities: Skylines one-player RPG project (but more on that in a bit), and I'm going to have one just for reprinting all the rare books I have for sale at eBay, still selling them there but making the listings themselves more beautiful, more useful, better searchable, and able to be combined with informative articles, additional media, even a podcast or a YouTube series if I decide in the future to get more serious about the rare-book dealership (which I might one day, but that's more of a “view from space” discussion). And I'll have my social media accounts at Mastodon, Pixelfed and Writing.Exchange (but as promised, more on that in a bit), and I'll combine them all at yet another one of these blogs I have at my disposal because of my Write.as Pro account, but in that case just a one-page blog, a simple full-page menu to all these other places which is where you'll be sent if typing in “jasonpettus.com” in your browser.
Wellness. Not much to say about this one that I haven't talked about in the journal before; it's well-known that since 2015 and a computer coding bootcamp I went through, I've been meditating on a regular basis, writing a gratitude journal, practicing yoga (although that's now morphed into tai chi), and doing monthly sessions with a therapist. So, I'll just be keeping all that up! Plus, after getting really lazy and out of the habit during the pandemic, I'm devoted to getting haircuts on a regular basis again, in fact every six weeks and keeping it fairly tight this year; and now that there will be a lot more chances to go out again this year, I'm slowly changing my wardrobe to that of the “eccentric gentleman of a certain age who's now old enough to get away with it.” Think garish yellow glasses with purple lenses, a walking cane, a silk scarf, a porkpie hat, a cape, etc. etc. If I'm going to start going out to live events again, and especially maybe interacting socially through ASL, I'm going to do it in style to celebrate the ebbing of the pandemic.
20% Activities. A common work theory among high-falutin' New Agey tech companies is that only 80% of an employee's time should be spent on the job they were technically hired to do, and that a full 20% of their time on the job should be devoted to whatever weirdass random thing they happen to be obsessive about, because it's often during these times that the employee reaches a state of “flow” and produces brilliant ideas for their day job. So I try to maintain this 20% dedication in my personal life, too, and have time devoted this coming year to both old activities (like writing formal poetry such as sonnets and haikus, which I got into the habit of doing back in 2021) and new ones, such as posting to these new decentralized social networks I belong to, after doing a giant Web 2.0 Purge during the holidays and permanently deleting my accounts at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Flickr and 500px. I talked about that subject in detail here at my journal the last time, so I encourage you to go back and read that if you're interested. Basically, I'm posting artsy photos at Pixelfed, creative writing at Writing.Exchange, then using Mastodon to bring them both together with my casual images, bizarre thoughts, and shared memes, thus replacing almost all the Web 2.0 services mentioned above. And there'll be some other things in this category — I might just start dating again for the first time in 20 years, you never know — but more on that as the year continues.
Freelancing. A real highlight of my life these days is that my freelance book editing continues to go insanely well right now. I'm making more money right now than I ever have in my life at any other job, and am basically pricing myself at the top of what I do and still booking 40+ hours a week of work. So, great, let's keep the money rolling in, for sure. Meanwhile, I'm marketing my services through a meaty free industry newsletter packed with interesting original content each issue, which has drawn a whole bunch of interest, and allows me to promote my freelancing services to a very targeted crowd of perennially warm leads, which is really nice. I've still been doing backburner lackluster work on a book of writing and publishing advice I've been tinkering on for the last year, which I hope to give out as a “lead magnet” for my newsletter and to sell at Amazon, called No One Gives a F—k About Your Novel: Tough-Love Advice for Self-Publishing Authors, so I think this is the year I'm going to finally finish that, and actually publish as a paperback which will give me a good excuse to finally learn Scribus, the Windows freeware version of Adobe InDesign or Quark XPress. And I've decided to get a little more involved in the industry side of things too, by joining Publishers Marketplace and the American Copy Editors Society (or ACES).
The only way for me to make more money now is to jump up to a much higher technical proficiency in editing, the kind needed for things like legal and medical documents, academic dissertations, traditional journalism and more. That lets you jump from 1 cent per word (about the most you can charge these days for editing genre novels by self-publishing part-time authors) to sometimes up to 4 or 5 cents per word; but your editing must be perfect, not a single mistake at all, and it must be meticulous when it comes to the specialty subjects you were hired to oversee for that perfection, so you're really earning your money. So for that I will need to study, study, study this year, since I'm basically an auto-didact when it comes to book editing, who gets everything right but only because “it feels right” that way to me, not because I can name any of the verb conjugations I'm actually employing (my most recent favorite but also often overused being the “past perfect”). So I'm reading books and doing quizzes, and then soon I'll enroll in the certification program ACES does with the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and then I'll have a shiny public certificate that says I can do copy editing all, um, good and stuff.
And then finally, I'm starting to gear up, even now a year before it starts happening, for the idea of being able to fully work remotely for two different one-month periods each year, so that twice a year I'm getting to live somewhere internationally for a full 30 days like a temporary local. To be honest, this is more of a “view from space” issue too, my strong desire to get in as much international traveling as I can in my fifties and sixties, while I still have the health to do it; but since the thing that will let this happen is a more 25,000-foot “project-level” item, it makes sense to bring it up here. This is one of the big reasons I'm freelancing full-time in the first place, instead of putting in a huge amount of resources looking for a full-time salaried position somewhere; I'm really, really intrigued by the idea of doing a one-month vacation where you still just continue to work eight hours each weekday, within a field like mine where you don't need anything other than a laptop, and even a cheap laptop in my field of work, some $150 Chromebook full of webapps and your files all stored in the cloud, so that getting ripped off as a backpacker wouldn't be expensive or devastating to your job. And as longtime readers know, way back in 2003 and '04 when I did my first international traveling (Germany in those cases, with a small 24-hour detour to Amsterdam), I did that through a slam poetry tour where I mostly stayed at the apartments of the event's host in each city, so this gave me a really authentic, local viewpoint of these cities I was visiting and staying in, which I got addicted to as far as it being the ideal way to travel internationally.
I really love the idea of getting to travel in late middle age and basically duplicate this feeling of locality and authenticity basically through a time commitment this time — of renting an apartment through AirBnB for a month and doing the same daily routines as everyone else in the neighborhood, over and over for 30 days. Like, I think my first destination when I finally start this (hopefully in February 2024) is the city of Port in Portugal, because I enjoy port wine and I love the idea of spending an entire month in the city where it was invented, getting to know the local facilities and culture and terrior deeply; and so I've already in my idle moments looked into it and identified AirBnB places I could afford to rent for a month, right there in the middle of the charming central historic Medieval core of the inner city, literally across the street from the port wineries; and I've seen in Google Maps that it's just a few blocks away from a famous old market open every morning for fresh produce, seafood, and everything else you'll need for the day. So I can very easily picture me making a Monday through Friday of walking the cobblestone streets in the early morning to the market, picking my food for the day and having a leisurely espresso, going back and refrigerating everything, heading out with my laptop and working all day at a neighborhood cafe overlooking a piazza or something like that, with of course breaks for sightseeing and other tourist stuff, then back to my AirBnB for a homemade dinner of fresh seafood from that morning, then some evening hours at a music event or pub or live theater or maybe dinner parties thrown by people I get to know that month (fingers crossed), etc. etc. I could spend a month doing that, sure.
So we'll see! Most likely Port and other areas of Portugal in February 2024, then Istanbul for a month in October 2024 (which may or may not involve a side trip to Ukraine to visit a freelance client), then Marrakech in Morocco in February 2025, then London in October 2025. Or maybe something else by then! Or maybe they'll never happen! We'll see!
Rare books. The one context most in flux these days. I had been selling rare books at eBay originally to supplement my income while I was running a small press, because every penny counted back then. Now I'm making decent money as a freelance book editor, so I no longer have to sell the books to make the small amount of scratch I do on them (less than $2,000 for an entire year even on good years). Plus, man, sheesh, would I have an amazing freaking book collection right now if I hadn't sold so many of the books I've owned over the years — I'd own literally four different Mark Twain first printings at this point, all nine of Philip Roth's “Nathan Zuckerman” books in first printings, the entire oeuvre of Jonathan Franzen in first printings, and a lot more. But, I do want to make sure that there's always a way to regularly be getting books out of my life — I'm really terrified of becoming one of those old white males who become bitter used-book dealers who eventually seal themselves into these tombs whose walls are made of filled bookcases — so it's really healthy to have this eBay store and to have it active, and I do like having the means to make big flips on interesting, unique books I find at estate sales but that I don't necessarily want to hold onto the rest of my own life.
These happen very regularly; see here, for example, two of the books I bought at last autumn's Hyde Park Book Fair, first printings of Joyce Carol Oates' 1993 girl-gang hit Foxfire and Scott Spencer's 1979 Endless Love, picked up for one dollar apiece but that I'll list at eBay soon for $50, and have a very good shot of eventually someone offering me in the $35-40 range, which would be an acceptable amount for me. You can't pay your rent with these kinds of sales, but it's a real dopamine hit when you pull off such an insane profit margin; and meanwhile, I'm surrounded by these beautiful old books from the '60s through '90s (for those who don't know, I specialize as a dealer in first printings of Postmodernist novels). So I don't mind selling books like these at all, because I wasn't really planning on collecting those books in the first place; but perhaps I'll start holding back all my truly great finds from now on, and begin more seriously trying to put together a personal collection whose worth can finally break five figures, versus the low four figures of its current count, and planning on holding those for at least another decade if not more.
To be honest? I mean, if we're really looking at “view from space” shit? I've already started having some vague thoughts about what my sixties might look like, another decade from now. And honestly, I have to say, it doesn't displease me to picture a fifties where I rise so much in reputation and stature as a book editor, I eventually get a chance to accept a job as a senior editor at a mainstream place like Random House (or at least one of those Brooklyn small presses that take themselves very seriously and make enough money to provide middle-class salaries to its employees), giving me an excuse to move to New York City for the first time in my life, which I very nearly chose instead of Chicago when deciding where to move after college. (I would've been moving into the neighborhood where Rent is located, in 1994!) And then meanwhile, after an entire decade of holding onto every legitimate great find I've had at the estate sales here in Chicago, a now room-sized collection hopefully worth in the $25,000-$50,000 range could now be brought with me to New York too, to now become the basis behind me being a much more serious dealer than I've ever really been here in Chicago, dedicated to having a “walk-in space” on sidewalk level to see the room of first printings, even if this space is not really open to the public very much but rather is a meeting place for private clients on evenings and weekends (when I'm not busy with my day job as a senior editor at Random House, natch).
And to bring this pipe dream all together, then, the space where I live in New York for my publishing job is the same place where I have the first-floor sidewalk-level den full of the rare books, which would be on one of those windy, tree-lined little streets in Greenwich Village, because I don't really envision moving to New York under any other circumstances besides those, of being rich and secure enough to be able to get a place right there in historic lower Manhattan, and spend my sixties just artsy-fartsying around there where the NYU students all roam, throwing dinner parties and going to dinner parties and hitting all the used bookstores in my free time, attending the symphony and all that fucking bullshit. Yeah, that doesn't seem like a bad way to spend my sixties at all! I'm not saying any of that is going to happen, but the first step of it actually happening is to begin right now keeping all the highest-end books I find at the estate sales around here in Chicago (which, to be clear, can be a $500 book every few weeks during the summer “busy season,” and certainly a $100 every week or two). So I'll be getting back into the habit of all these things this year, I think, from attending the estate sales to getting things listed at eBay in a timely manner. And then finally there's...
Creativity. Specifically, what relationship am I going to have to creativity post-small press, a question I haven't answered since CCLaP went out of business in 2017? Oh, I'm posting artsy-fartsy photos over at Pixelfed, don't get me wrong, and poetry over at Writing.Exchange, still posting book and movie reviews every couple of days at Goodreads and Letterboxd, and still doing this personal journal, faithfully ever since December 1997, 26 years now without a break (sheesh). But, some of you know this, once you accomplish really big, really legitimately impressive things in the arts, it doesn't really ever feel like a big success again unless you match that, so if it's not going to be writing novels or publishing other people's novels anymore for me, what's it going to be now? I think I'm coming across an answer, and I'll be spending the rest of 2023 trying to figure out if I can get it to work out in the way I want.
I've talked before about half of this plan, my hope to finally start playing the video game Cities: Skylines regularly this year, so to eventually build a super-complex, ultra-complicated fictional city but that's supposed to be set directly across Lake Michigan from Chicago, basically a fictional version of a real place like Indianapolis or Cincinnati or Cleveland or Milwaukee or what have you, with a rich history that lasts from the early 1800s all the way through the near-future (in my fictional universe). And the kicker is that I'm situating the city inside the fake Midwestern state Sinclair Lewis invented to set all his Midwestern satires of the 1920s, which he called Winnemac. That's an entire journal entry unto itself, so I encourage you to read that for all the details. But something else I've very recently started getting into (or at least getting exposed to) is this sorta new concept of one-player roleplaying games, which is exactly what it sounds like, like trying to play Dungeons & Dragons by yourself. Basically how all the most successful ones do it is to one way or another encourage players to “play” the game by writing out their adventure; so basically what we're talking about here, if you want to approach this from a different angle, is turning the writing of a novel into a game, not just passively consuming a “choose your own adventure” story but actually taking your choices and writing your own adventure, after being given a rich, detailed setting, and having things like “oracle tables” that help you decide story beats, or introduce random challenges that make it more difficult but more rewarding to write your way out of.
I'm all into that idea, storytelling turned into a game, so I think there's a way here to combine a one-player RPG with this ultra-complicated environment I'm building inside Cities: Skylines, for which others can set their own stories through a permissive Creative Commons license. The really, really, really nice thing about RPG games these days is that it's just a PDF you're selling, something you can easily design on your home computer, so you can go to a place like DriveThruRPG.com, throw the file up for five bucks or whatever, and see if anyone bites. That makes the stakes low as far as trying out ideas, as exactly manifested in the proliferation of “one-page games” there for 99 cents, where basically the gamemaster helps guide you into writing a single short story over a single afternoon, an ultra-simplistic game you probably won't ever play again, but nor do you need to when you spend only 99 cents on it. It's consumable at that point, like a streaming TV series or a short story, which leaves the window wide open for a whole variety of short games with specific themes designed for a one-time use at almost no cost. For now, I'm gearing up to actually play my first 1pRPG myself, the current 800-pound gorilla of the genre, Ironsworn, so much more on all of this as the year continues.
So, that's it, the “plan” for 2023. Will I accomplish everything? You're asking the wrong question. The question should be, am I excited about having this much energy and enthusiasm for even attempting all these things again? And the answer to that is an eager yes, so at that point it doesn't really matter how much of it I “get done.” As always, I'm grateful to you for continuing to follow along on the journey, and now that hopefully my online presence is going to start getting a lot bigger and a lot more centralized again, I hope you'll continue to do so in the future.