2014: One Word

One Word. Encapsulate the year in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2014 for you?

The one word that captures this year (from 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010):

Progress.

I had trouble coming up with a single word. I felt disappointment and rejection this year. At the beginning of the year, I resolved to work harder, earn an income, and finish my book. But depression and fear set in as publishers and editors said no. I poured money into writing workshops and writing coaches. Then there was an ambition to build my freelance user experience practice—to tackle unknown, intriguing areas. I had not one, not two, not three, not four, but five different intense projects this year.

When I succeeded, I really succeeded. But when I failed, I really failed.

But what is the point of rejection and disappointment if I didn’t learn from them. If I didn’t know what to do next time. The funny thing about progress is that it accumulates slowly. It’s not a magical cure all. Tomorrow, I won’t leap from level 1 to level 2. In fact, I may not move from level 1. But like every video gamer knows, if I keep trying and trying, I will succeed.

So despite all that negative feelings, I did move forward. I did move my foot one foot and another. I may have looked back to see all the accidental fire. But I kept looking for the fresh air in the trees. I pushed through the weeds and drank the clean water when I could. Then when I reached the top of the mountain, I looked back, pleased at the progress. But then I looked upward. Because I want to keep moving forward.

2014: Moment

Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail.

In 2013, it was talking to Yasar Usta in Istanbul. In 2012, it was using the ocean as a “big toilet” while floating outside Palawan. In 2011, it was my birthday moment. In 2010, it was the success in Journey to the End to the Night.

For this year, I thought hard about the moments I had this year. Or as I learned from Pam Houston’s writing workshop this year, a glimmer. And for this, I want to answer with a glimmer that felt whole, that felt inspiring, that felt complete.

I hesitate to talk about the disappointments and rejections. The way that I had to define my boundaries to protect myself. The way that I had to declare that you know, I really don’t like it. The way that I had to let go of a friend to heal. No, I won’t talk about those.

Rather, it was this meta-glimmer at Pam Houston’s writing workshop. The assignment was to use a perspective that we rarely used (e.g. second person) and a character we rarely embody (e.g. an old man).

windjammermaine

By then, the frozen cold of the boat had shocked my bones. In the sun, the windjammer was inviting and adventurous. But as the evening progressed, the daylight disappeared and only the chilled air from the Atlantic remained. The cramped space in boat made everything itchy. The rocking of the boat drummed up nausea. I felt unclean. And my mind couldn’t rest to let the words fall on the page as they usually did.

During the first exercise, my mind turned into mud and the usual stream of ideas did not grow. My creativity was stumped and uninspired.

But suddenly with that assignment, I found hope. My pen moved across the notebook as my mind seized on second person and an older man. I wrote about a father attempting to connect with his two daughters. His desire to do what his own father could never do. The sorrow that dripped through his words over the telephone. The sorrow that was not heard by his daughters as they kept the call short. The way memories of his father’s funeral passed through his mind as he dialed the numbers. And the way how he assured himself that he was a good father.

The words flowed out, but it wasn’t until I volunteered to read my draft to the group that I felt more complete. My voice, as it naturally is, shies away from public performance, but in this glimmer, I increased my volume and sat up from the stoop that I took on the deck. Then I began reading.

“Have you done this before?” Pam said after I finished.

“This is only my second time,” I said.

“It sounds like you know how to write second person,” she said.

Then later, a fellow writer a father himself leaned over and said, “That was so powerful. The most powerful piece I ever read.”

I describe this glimmer not because I want to pat myself on the back, but because of the previous entry. I need to remember that there are times that I can succeed. They do exist.

2014: Letting Go

Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

In 2010, it was a person. In 2011, it was an idea. In 2012, it was a symbol represented by a person. In 2013, I let go fear.

In 2014, I let go of humility. Well, in the positive sense, of progression. I felt trapped in the fear that others would judge my self-promotion and the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. Imposter syndrome? Yes, but it’s very unlike the syndrome many women describe in tech. I am in a secure place in tech where yes, I grew less humble and demanded higher hourly rates, better working environments. But because I deserved it.

But what I mean is the fear that drives me to be humble (or quiet). I still hate talking about my work, thinking that it’s lesser. But I pursued writing groups and classes. And I kept going and going.

Back in late September, the wind was picking up as we were moving quickly toward Rockland. It was the last day of the writing workshop. I turned to a fellow writer. He was at least a decade older than me with a teenage daughter and a wife who had exited their marriage with dreams of another life. As we scooped the morning’s breakfast onto our plates, I made small talk about the last day—the sorrow of it ending, but how it would propel us to confidence. “Sometimes, I feel like I have imposter syndrome,” I said, the words accidentally sliding out. “Like I can’t really measure up to the other writers.”

I stiffened as I could hear my well-meaning problem-solving friends who would stare at me and say, “There’s no reason to feel that way. Well, just work hard! You can do it!”

Instead, he eyes didn’t fall into the same mode. They didn’t try to size up the situation and patch up the open wound. Rather, he leaned forward and whispered, “You know, I have it too.”

2012: Everything’s OK

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

In 2011, it was a moment of clarity, sincere belief and friendship. In 2010, it was an action of commitment.

In 2012, it was when I stood up for myself.

Previous to this moment, I had discovered that I often let myself fall into a whimper—a rolling ball of self-pity. I let other people bulldoze me. I let people persuade me that I could really like Chinese food and then inside, a tantrum starts and I suddenly feel irrational but I don’t know why.

I was angry at first. Because I realized that I didn’t allow myself to be angry. I rationalized the anger believing that I was at fault, I was always responsible, I was the one who made the mistake. But then I couldn’t bear it anymore. So I was angry.

Being more, my anger came in different ways. Angry tears. But every word I said, I meant it. Sure there were moments later that I regretted what I said. But a few days later, I would agree.

For better or worse, I could never blame those words on anything. Not alcohol. Not exhaustion. My deeply grounded beliefs that the words I say are meaningful even if said awkwardly and without confidence. They do reflect my beliefs.

But the moment started with an im. I saw it criticizing my style of travel and being told how I should behave.

Then the moment went on with another email. I was responding to an email where the only line that remains in my mind was “Have you gone native yet?” I felt no closure from the earlier criticism. In my email, perhaps not in the most friendly way, I pointed out the criticism and bluntly stated how hurt I was. I could not continue the email in a friendly discussion because my anger had already polluted my blood. The black cloud was steaming.

Then the moment ended with an email to a reply. I was in the hot, sweltering room in Manila. In the hotel that I regretted staying in. The ceiling was diagonal. The room was on the top. It was supposed to be Spanish colonial style, but I felt like we were in a cave with dim lights, roaring air conditioner, cold tile floors. The internet wireless was weak and unreliable. And I saw his response. A rightfully upset response. I shuddered lightly. Then I checked my body. I was sad. But the anger remained although it had calmed to an even temperature. I could feel it in my chest, the tightening in my throat and I could see the blackness streaming in and out of my body.

So I wrote a reply.

“I am sorry. Thank you.”

2012: Travel

How did you travel in 2012? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

In 2011, I went on one international trip, one domestic…and one super local. In 2010, I went on one international trip and multiple domestic trips.

In 2012, I did the unfathomable:

  • Las Vegas for CES
  • A four week trip to Ireland, England, Germany and NYC
  • A brief rendezvous to Pointe Reyes
  • A business trip to NYC
  • Ice cream research trip #1 to Vancouver and Seattle
  • Ice cream research trip #2 to Columbus, Ohio and the greater area
  • Ice cream research trip #3 to the Philippines and Taiwan
  • Ice cream research trip #4 to Argentina (and a short trip to Uruguay)
  • In 2013, will my ice cream research bring me to Italy? Will that include Milan, Rome, Naples, Turin? Turkey? Austria? India? Certainly another trip to NYC. And a trip to LA. And a hopeful trip to Portland. And will I be impulsive to go to a conference in Toronto, Austin or elsewhere?

    2012: This year’s 5 minutes

    Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2012 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2012.

    2011 5 minutes and 2010 5 minutes

  • Going to CES with Greg and inviting Chris along to spend an oddly joyful moments in Vegas
  • Seeing O for the first time in Vegas
  • Planning on my monthlong travel to Europe and New York, collecting advice and connecting with friends of friends
  • Anti-Valentine’s day dinner with Daniel and his housemates in London
  • Getting to know Martin better; someone who I only met on Facebook and only introduced because we both loved Foster the People
  • The consecutive Airbnb experiences in Europe
  • Interviewing at Foursquare and realizing that NYC was not my thing
  • Taking the layoff package from Palm and…moving on
  • Going on an overnight bike tour to Pointe Reyes and staying at the Marconi Conference Center (the former location of my high school AGATE program)
  • Enjoying the experience in Drakes Bay Farm with oysters and the like
  • Realizing how tearful and frustrating an experience can be on a bike ride can be
  • How my contract at Barnes & Noble as an interaction designer…truly…really changed my life
  • Meeting another Jenn at bike party
  • Realizing that nature really is not for me and sticking to it; rejecting an opportunity camp outside of Yosemite
  • Starting my ice cream travel guide project
  • Visiting Vancouver with Shipra and Jeff
  • Doing my ice cream research in Vancouver and Seattle
  • Continuing ice cream research in Ohio…and telling my family about my current endeavors
  • Spending a night with a dairy plant owner and his family outside of Columbus, Ohio
  • Taking a “sabbatical” from user experience to allow for flexibility for my project (but allowing opportunities for freelance projects)
  • Rediscovering my love of writing through various writing workshops and classes
  • Traveling to Taiwan, Philippines, Argentina and Uruguay with various important people in my life
  • Watching more movies than I ever have this year
  • Making ice cream (from my 31 flavors project) and delighting friends with the results
  • Letting go who I thought was an important person but who really was a burden on my soul
  • 2012: Letting Go

    Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

    In 2010, it was a person. In 2011, it was an idea.

    This year, 2012, I let go of a person. Or at least a person who had become a symbol of angst, discontent and self-rejection.

    Over the past year, I have made multiple attempts to let go. Whether it was courage or other, I finally let go in late November.

    To my surprise, as much as it smarted early on, the pain subsided. Unlike other painful moments, this one healed very quickly.

    I can only surmise that it was a wound that festered around a foreign object. Once the foreign object was removed, relief was a delight.

    Ever since then, I am lighter. Previously I felt weighed down by an indescribable black cloud of indecision, dissatisfaction and dragged my feet to every decision I made, every moment I thought would yank me out of my unhappiness.