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):


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).


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.”

Reverb 10: Future Self

December 21 – Future Self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

Despite my tendency to plan, I rarely plan more than a year ahead. But I have expected that the me of the future will have gained experience that refutes what I say now. At least I hope so…that all decisions are made carefully considered.

But here it goes:

Dear Jenn of 5 years from now,

I realize that the word friend has always been a shaky, uncertain word. With trust, dependency and convenience. But now…and perhaps I will be disproven, there’s nothing to lose by making a new friend. You’ll never know what you may discover and learn. Be honest and shameless in finding new friends. Then remember always to show your appreciation. If you lie thinking whether you showed enough appreciation, you didn’t.

By this time, I hope that you are settled in something permanent than an apartment that is still in a “temporary” state. If you haven’t found something permanent, find it now. Whether it is the loved furniture or even a place in a community.

Marriage, highly influenced by living in San Francisco, should not be a decision by others. Nobody should tell you that it’s time to get married. Furthermore, it’s intended to be a cultural thing that represents an unbreakable bond. Show unbreakable bonds through other ways. And why marry…if society demands it? Marry only for practical reasons (e.g. insurance) rather than because someone told you to do so.

Also, remember to put nouns in sentences and not drop them.


Jenn of 10 years,

Don’t forget how it was like to be young. Act like it.