Hi kids! Me again. I guess you were expecting that.
Quiet holidays here. I did nothing special. A woman I’ve run into a few times, Carolyn, gave me a present, so I set a symbolic pine cone on top of it and called it a Christmas tree. It’s Old Filth, by Jane Gardam, and I couldn’t be happier. Been meaning to read it for years – it’s moving and funny and said to be Gardam’s best book. And the inciting incident happens on Christmas Day. A perfect Xmas gift. (It reminded me of when I bought I for Isobel for myself on my 50th birthday, and it turned out to begin on the birthday of a girl who turned out to be a writer.) I’m thinking Carolyn must keep a stack of Old Filths to give away as spontaneous Christmas gifts. So I’ve set aside Aslı Erdoğan’s The Stone Building and Other Places (gorgeous, rageful stories of women’s oppression and captivity, translated from the Turkish) for now and am reading Old Filth instead.
I feel like not much – but everything – has happened in the past month. I mean, there’s not much to tell or send photos of. A few things: around Christmas I started exercising an hour a day, a combo of jogging and ballet stretches and workouts (YouTube). Great because they’re all done with no equipment. I have a long way to go to be able to participate fully in a dance class, and I want to get there by March. Also, I’ve been rather busy with freelance work. I read some books in December: Bluets (Maggie Nelson), Devotion (Patti Smith), The Lover (Duras), The Taiga Syndrome (Rivera Garza). I’ve mentioned some of these before. And I’ve been working intermittently on the second novel that I brought here to revise. And I’ve been making plans and bookings for 2019.
But I’ve also watched an unusual amount of TV. Doctor Who. She-Ra. River. Travelers – all three seasons! Movies: The Amazing Spider-Man (1 and 2). Frequency, Hereditary, Catch Me If You Can. Elysium. The Third Murder, Au hasard Balthazar, Roma. Batman Begins. Stranger Than Fiction. This is not like me.
It felt like I was subconsciously shifting in some deep way and was watching TV during the process – like suspending operations during renovations. Not sure exactly how this happened. I had become aware that some major components of my life are/were really addictions, and, unlike before, had a real desire to see the truth about them and change things. Stopping coffee in November might have been a foreshadowing. During December I did some honest addiction work with food, and since then my feelings of compulsion about food have massively changed. I don’t want to feel full anymore. Just eating that pasta dish I loved last month feels too heavy. I have a delicious loaf of local homemade bread, and it’s just been sitting in the freezer, I’ve only been eating it in reasonable portions when I’m actually hungry. A month ago I’d’ve devoured it in two days, with butter or cheese. So I don’t know what all the cause and effect relationships are, it just feels like since around Christmas I’ve been swimming in a bucket of emotions, and these changes have been happening willy nilly, and it’s all fascinating and positive. But a lot of the time I’m just sitting staring at the walls – or watching TV – because I feel like I don’t know what to do anymore. Maybe letting go of some addictions has freed up time and energy and I don’t yet know what I want to do with it.
My feelings about both reading and writing have changed. Six weeks ago I was reading more or less dutifully, the way I learned to read during my MFA program, reading what’s relevant to my work, for enrichment and fertilizing the creative process. I think the change was that I realized, from one moment to the next, that this is my creative process, and I can specifically choose the work that I want to feed into it, and that is completely my choice, and any work that I want to include in the process will be one that gives me joy or excitement. I think that’s what happened. I think this might have resulted from realizing that reading has been an addiction that started in childhood, to feel safe and to escape everyday experience. So, maybe, recognizing the addiction made it possible to give reading a new, positive role.
Same-same happened in my writing. I’ve been questioning for a long time whether I really want to be writing; it hasn’t been fun, I haven’t liked my own work and haven’t felt proud of it or excited about the future of it. Suddenly it felt like I developed a healthy self-centeredness about it. That there are aspects and purposes of writing that I do love, and – aha! – I get to focus on those! Wonder of wonders! Recognizing my uniquenesses and allowing them to completely direct my explorations and creativity. Never thought of that before! With that, I became a bit more humble as to my actual writing abilities and the need to learn certain things that I would have to learn from others. Which before I’d disregarded as tedious and unnecessary. So I went and studied a few simple areas of writing skill that I’d never given proper attention to before (nothing fancy, just how to describe physical action, and how to manage changes in point of view). Simple things, but now suddenly I feel like writing is not so mysterious, it’s something I can get better at, that I can do and want to do. It’s tremendously exciting and feels real and, yeah, doable.
But there’s also that scariness. If, now, I’m “recognizing my uniqueness and allowing that to completely direct” etc., there’s no assurance at all that anyone else is going to like it. I can’t tell you how grateful I have to have a bit of funds now so that I have some breathing room to make these experiments in uniqueness, with a cushion so that if things don’t work out I can regroup in time to avoid homelessness and starvation.
Same-same happened in this weird and wonderful relationship thing that’s been enchanting me for nearly two years. Somehow I came around to recognizing and accepting the real nature of the relationship. That it was based on addiction and emotional injuries, not “love.” Had not wanted to see that before. Now, suddenly, the relationship has a quite different feeling and, I think, a more honest and real footing. The “magic” is gone, and I wouldn’t want it back. This is much more interesting.
So, strange stuff. I wish I could explain better.
Has this affected my physical functioning, too? A few days ago, I jogged 22 minutes! That’s ten minutes longer than I’ve ever jogged before! And I felt I could keep going and going. I only stopped because it was getting dark out.
Back to mundanities (nothing wrong with those): I’m finally learning to speak Portuguese! Thanks to a thoughtful gift of a Pensleur course from a friend. Just don’t ask me to spell anything.
Oh, I finished the sleeveless pullover. All Portuguese wool, part Azorean. Wearing it as I type.
One last topic. I think people wonder how I manage this life of mine financially. Sometimes I wonder, myself. So here’s some figures. In December, I spent $725 on my Airbnb for the month. (That’s a step up from what I was spending last year, when I was in Asia. There, I could get along on around $250 a month for backpacker-style lodgings. When I first came to Europe I bumped that up to $450-600 per month, and had the funds to do it. It helps so much to be able to stay in lodgings where I have personal space and peace, in order to work and self-care. In Asia I put a large portion of my energy into just finding places where I could sit and work, and often that meant spending more on food: table rental. I think my productivity rockets when I just have a peaceful, reasonably comfortable place to work.)
In December I spent $154 on food. Beyond those basic expenses, I have a few monthly bills: around $25 for my mobile phone, around $90 for my storage units back in the US, and $125 for various subscriptions for newspapers, entertainment, and software – which I’ve just knocked down to $65. (When I was in Asia, these expenses were minimized to only $27, for my Arizona storage unit. I didn’t even have a phone, for a while.) During December I also spent a lot on prepayments for 2019 bookings, but I’m leaving that out in order to talk about only December “cash basis” income and expenses. I also made some gifts and donations, but let’s neglect those, too, and just deal with regular daily life.
In December I earned $950. So for December (leaving out the things I’m leaving aside), if my math is right, I had to dip into savings by around $160. This is by design; I’m living slightly beyond my paltry means by intention because, for the time being, I can, and because I have high hopes of my income growing over the next two years so that this level will remain sustainable.
This has been a relatively quiet month, financially. Other months I have significant travel and transportation costs, or I spend more for food because I cook for myself less. Once I start the dance project, things will get really interesting. But I’m considering those costs as an investment, and I hope to start seeing returns fairly quickly through expanded writing opportunities.
If anyone’s interested, my income for 2018 was $16,118. I actually earned $16,591 (different from income because of payment delays at both ends of the calendar). In 2017 – a year I spent entirely in Southeast Asia – my income was $10,743, and I had to work just as hard for it. So this was a nice improvement.
Take care! Wishing you love, truth and joy.