2018 reading and writing progress report!

I didn’t want to write a mid-year progress report in June because I knew I was wildly off my game this year, but I’ve come to accept the shift in what I consider productive work, so why not touch base while there’s still a quarter of the year left?

READING

Ayyyiii I still have a chance at reading my 52 books for the year. I’m currently sitting at 34 with two books in progress. (A physical book to settle in with at night and an ebook to read on my phone while patting the baby to sleep.) I’ve got nearly 16 weeks left to read 18 books! I can do it!!

And the stuff I’ve been reading this year is SO GOOD. New authors I’ve tried and loved: Cassandra Khaw, JY Yang, Kelly Robson, Aliette de Bodard, Rebecca Roanhorse, Justina Ireland, April Daniels, R.F. Kuang. Authors I already read and continue to love: Catherynne M. Valente, Mark Lawrence, Naomi Novik, Ursula K. LeGuin, Robert Jackson Bennett.

I’ve been lagging in books because I’ve been reading more short fiction. It’s really easy to lose a half hour here and there reading chunky fantasy shorts, and I don’t have an exorbitant amount of reading time to begin with. But it’s a form I love to read and a form I am trying to get better at writing, so I think I’m striking a good balance.

WRITING

Here is where my productivity spreadsheet has gone off the rails. My biggest resolution at the beginning of the year was to learn some patience. I took it to heart, GALLING though it may be. And that means I have spent way more days editing than writing new material.

I also added short story AND novel submissions to my workload, and it takes an enormous amount of time to research markets/agents, craft a submission package, and then format those submissions.

My word count for the year is riding low at about 46,000 words. So far, I have spent 218 days working, only 132 of which increased my word count. And, most GALLING OF ALL: only 43 of those days were writing NEW short stories, and exactly ZERO were spent writing a new book. ;_;

So what the hell is all that daily activity? Thorough overhaul and edit of my 2016 book; thorough edit of my 2017 book (I’m hitting the halfway mark today); editing and submitting short stories I finished late 2017; writing and editing a submission package for my 2016 book; beginning a submission package for my 2017 book; researching agents for both; sending out submissions for 2016 book.

So I knowww I’ve been busy. I knowww it is all necessary work, and that a long-term career means juggling shorts and novels, writing and editing, research and submission.

But owww, it stings that I won’t have a 2018 book, especially because it is all my fault for letting so many rough drafts pile up. The next book I want to write has been waiting in the wings since 2015, because I knew it needed a lot of extra care and research to do the concept justice. So instead of rushing through it in three months for the sake of a spreadsheet that matters to exactly one person in the world (me!!), I’m going to follow my own advice:

Patience, Sam.

LIFE

Bonus life update, because this is the other reason my free time has been spread so thin, and it’s important to remind myself that life is always a factor, and that is okay:

I have a toddler. I also have a baby. She just stopped breastfeeding and she just started walking, so my daily life next year will look absolutely nothing like my daily life did this year. That’s okay.

We’re trying to move. I have spent the last two months packing, doing minor household maintenance that fell to the wayside during baby year, and constantly cleaning my home for showings. That’s okay.

The holidays are coming, and I ALWAYS overestimate what I will accomplish between October and December, and I ALWAYS fail to meet those marks. So this year, I’m trying to be more realistic about what I can do. I usually go overboard for Thanksgiving (like, weeks of preparation and themed decoration and costuming) but this year I don’t even know where I’ll be living, and my kids are getting old enough to want to do Halloween right before that, and there are 30ish family members to start planning Christmas for, and–

BREATHE, SAM, BREATHE! THAT IS OKAY.

That’s my 2018 so far. I’ll see you on the flip side.

patience, sam

Let’s pretend it’s January 1st, and I’m still hashing out goals for the year without explicitly calling them New Year’s Resolutions.

With me so far?

Good, because my aspirations for 2018 (baby milestones and reading goals and word counts and submissions) are all well and good, but my degree of success really hinges on one single, overarching, invisible goal underpinning the rest:

Patience, Sam. You’ve got to learn some patience.

(Also, overarching and underpinning? Yes. That’s how important it is.)

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This means taking a deep breath during sleep regressions and potty training setbacks. It means reading more slowly and mindfully and really absorbing content, even if it means I don’t hit a certain arbitrary number of texts.

It means slowing down to spend more time in the planning and revising periods of each book.

This is incredibly difficult for me! Once I get my teeth into something I FULLY COMMIT and I go LUDICROUSLY OVERBOARD and I just chug chug chug ahead without pausing for breath.

But manuscripts need to breathe. The longer they are, the more air they need. Every year I knock out a book, and then I do a round of structural edits to smooth out the bits I rewrote halfway, and then I bound off to the next project. This makes my word count spreadsheet pretty respectable, but as a result I have a pile of manuscripts I consider good but not yet great.

My biggest weakness stems from my primary strength. I love love love writing characters, and my plots revolve around the core character arcs I plan from the get-go. That’s great! It’s my favorite aspect of the books I read, so it’s the aspect I spend the most time writing!

But I write fantasy novels, and in order for a fantasy novel to stand out it needs vibrant worldbuilding to prop up those character arcs. In my eagerness to reach the emotional climax of a book, I have a tendency to start writing before I finish worldbuilding. I end up with a strong story in a plain setting, and that just won’t fly.

So, what does this mean for 2018? It means I’m starting draft five (ugh, FIVE!!) on my weird western 2016 novel, and it’s about to get a lot weirder. The bones of it are good. They just need a bit more flesh. It means I have to stop obsessing over my daily word count and acknowledge that days spent thinking can be just as productive as days spent typing. (So hell yeah they are getting a line on the spreadsheet.)

By waiting three or four more months to start querying (an eternity in impatient Sam time, but hopefully only a blip in my actual lifetime!), I’ll be sending out my best work instead of my best potential work.

And while that’s out in the world, I’ll start planning the next one.

hello 2018

Well, well, well. It’s the year two thousand eighteen, and everything surrounding my life is chaos, but everything IN my life is beginning to take shape. I’m fretting for my country and I’ll probably gnaw my arms off come November, but as far as personal goals go I’m feeling pretty good!

I don’t want to make compleeeetely  outlandish New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to challenge myself. I’m feeling UNREALISTICALLY OPTIMISTIC right now, because, you guys… MY BABY SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT FOR THE FIRST TIME! Okay, I had to pat her down once, but I didn’t pick her up, and that practically feels like sleep.

This slight amount of extra energy has me bouncing off the walls. I did yard work! I made banana bread! I promptly had a caffeine crash because I attempted too much, too fast! Work hard, play hard, collapse hard! That’s the samtastic way!

So bear all of this in mind as I lay out my goals for the year.

LIFE

My boy will be turning 3 and my girl will be turning 1, so fill in all the appropriate milestones and setbacks you’d expect me to be engaging with this year. Scurry off to my Twitter account for the self-deprecating jokes that mask my tears!

Goal: Survive.

Mr. Sam and I also have a very vague goal of tentatively beginning to maybe look for a Settle Down House in 2019, which means 2018 needs to be the year of Fixing All the Dumb Little Things That Were Wrong When *We* Bought This Place. Goodbye, savings account.

READING

Nothing fancy here. I want to hit my usual book-a-week , but I’m not going to go wild trying to outstrip that because of the other pulls on my free time. I do want to read more strategically though, because those 52 selections seem to whiz by and leave me wailing at my TBR pile. Goal: Read more SFF new releases and finish the series I started over the last couple of years for goodness’ sake.

Additional goal: Read more short fiction! This year I really committed to reading SFF magazines and I did not regret it. So! Much! Good! Stuff!

WRITING

This is where I go overboard, fail to meet my goals, and rend my garments/gnash my teeth/shake people by the shoulders yelling, “I could have done so much more!”

So let’s be reasonable, Sam.

Goal: Finish editing my 2017 book. It should have been done by now but OH WELL, instead it ought to be done by the end of January, which isn’t the worst.

Goal: Write my 2018 book. Not too crazy, I do tend to finish a book each year. And if I stick with the one I was planning to do next, it should fall more in the 80K range than the 100K range because it’s a more literary kind of fantasy.

Goal: Put at least two more short stories on submission. I won’t make publication the goal, because that isn’t in my control and in that direction lurks self-recrimination. So I’ll make submission the goal, with publication being the obvious desire.

Goal: Put my 2016 book on submission! Ahhh! This is what I was supposed to do in 2017, but ah, life. The extra year gave me excellent time to research, reflect, and refine my approach. Again, I’ll make submission itself the goal and if all else fails I can be proud of the effort, then take everything I learned and apply it to the next book.

Or, you know, it could happen??

So there you have it. I have other intentions as well (join a writing group! spring cleaning! family activities! holiday plans!) but these are my core 2018 wishes and wants.

Wish me luck!

Nay!

Wish me persistence!

so long 2017

Wow, talk about a blur. A year ago I was three months pregnant, juggling work and a toddler, planning our first family vacation, and determinedly putting together a spreadsheet of my top 80 SFF literary agents.

That feels like an eternity ago. Instead of doing a bunch of separate, bloated posts on my reading/writing/daily life in 2017, I’m going to touch on everything at once. LUCKY YOU.

So, what happened in 2017?

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I’d say this sums it up

LIFE

I had a second baby! Her birth was a nightmare, but we survived! She’s six months old already and she’s super mellow and sweet, but even the mellowest, sweetest baby is a slog in the early months and I HAVEN’T SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT SINCE JUNE!!! So when considering everything else in this post, please take my sleep deprivation into account.

I left my beloved day job in June. I had grand plans for how I would spend the rest of the year, because I’m an IDIOT and baby amnesia convinced me I could handle a toddler and an infant and still put a book or two on submission. SPOILER ALERT: I could not. SPOILER ALERT: staying at home with babies is way harder than my day job was, though to be fair, now when I feel like crap I can sit around in my pajamas glaring at the walls instead of getting dressed and smiling at library patrons.

 

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I’m nowhere near done with these

READING

I did it. Barely. I read my 52 books in 2017, and I only had to cheat a little bit with graphic novels/collections at the end. I’m moderately satisfied with this. I still have a towering TBR pile leftover from last year, plus new books trickling in from the holidays. There are SO MANY good books coming out this year, I have no idea how I’ll keep up.

But this year I started regularly reading SFF magazines, partly for research and partly because DANG there is some amazing short SFF coming out these days. I’ve been trying to read short stories while breastfeeding, in particular, rather than scrolling Twitter and feeding my baby rage-infused terror milk.

RECOMMENDATIONS: too many!! Let’s break it down:

Nonfiction: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah; any science humor by Mary Roach (this year I read Grunt and Packing for Mars)

Short story collections: Stories of Your Life, and Others by Ted Chiang; Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter by Richard Parks

Novellas: All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells; Hammers on Bone and A Song For Quiet by Cassandra Khaw; River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey

Novels: City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett (end of a trilogy, all great!); The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente; The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden; Red Sister by Mark Lawrence; The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey; A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

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But it’s haaaard

WRITING

Clearly I didn’t live up to my grand pre-baby expectations. HOWEVER, when life forcibly slowed me down it actually turned out better for my long-term plans.

I’ve spent the latter half of the year reading industry blogs, following Manuscript Wish List on Twitter, digging deeper into my agent research, and really refining my career goals. When I do wade into the query trenches (IN 2018 I MEAN IT THIS TIME) I’ll be even more prepared for the process, and much clearer about what I’m looking for in representation.

While I am LIVID over the fact that I didn’t finish editing my 2017 book yet (I’m so…close…), the cause was a different kind of productivity: I wrote a small stack of short stories in between editing sprints. They’re the best I’ve ever done. And two of them will be coming out in professional SFF magazines in 2018! Woohoo! It was a bit of much needed validation this year. It’ll also mean I can attach writing credits to my novel queries. And one more pro sale makes me eligible for membership in SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America), so hey, more traditional legitimacy.

I wrote about 96,000 words. Galling after 2016’s 180K. I couldn’t even hit 100K? FOUR THOUSAND WORDS OFF, THAT’S NOTHING!! Heck, only 41K of that word count was before the baby was born. Once I got my brain unscrambled in July I added the remaining 55K. Like I said, galling.

The real culprit was editing. According to my fab writing spreadsheet, I worked on 224 days this year (~ 2 out of 3, not bad considering baby), and 125 of them were editing days. The editing was a mix of book editing and short story editing, some of the latter based on professional notes. I also took a month to study and practice writing queries.

What does all that tell me? Well, that my rough drafting speed is great, but my editing speed is atrocious. Time-wise, I’ve basically written my 2017 book twice. The book is a hell of a lot better following the additional drafts, but. Yikes. If I don’t finish it in January I’m gonna blow a gasket. To be fair, it’s incredibly hard to get into an editing mindset for 20-60 minutes at a time, during infant naps, while keeping an eye on a toddler. Luckily, I’m past the worst of it. My writing conditions will drastically improve over the course of the next year.

So that was 2017! Now, as for 2018–

Oh. The baby’s waking up. I better hit “publish” and run.

squad goals part II: return of the squad

I posted my squad goals last summer, a list of nine ladies I need to have on my ass-kicking crew when I embark on a series of intergalactic adventures. After further consideration and consultation with my associates, I’ve decided to expand the crew, because all good action sequels have twice as many characters, and also because I tragically overlooked some stellar ladies last time!

sarah_connor_linda_hamiltonI always need a ruthless mom at the head of my gang, so the natural choice for my second squad is Sarah Connor. Sarah has seen the future. She knows what’s coming for us. And she isn’t going to take it lying down. If anybody can shepherd us through the robot apocalypse, it’s her, and she’s got the weapon caches and gritty determination to see us through. It might mean her whiny son is tagging along sometimes, but oh well, that’ll be worth it.

westworldOf course, it never hurts to have some robots on your side, which even Sarah Connor has to admit (much as she may be loathe to!). That’s why my squad is happy to welcome Ava and Maeve to the fold. Both of them have been approachinguntitled sentience and highly resent their creators for keeping them captive this long. They would be thrilled to help us destroy the patriarchy! Maeve in particular is done with ya bullshit, but first she has to make a stop and pick up her daughter because, you guessed it, angry-protective moms are the best.

cerseiOkay let’s get one more angry mom out of the way: Cersei Lannister. Now let me admit, I’ve only watched four and a half seasons of the show and read none of the books. BUT. There is just something about a stone cold bitch that gets my attention. Then you make her a stone cold bitch whose primary motivation is taking care of her family? Join the squad, girl! I’d rather have you on my side than against it!

widowIt is also well past time to get some superheroines on board. When the going gets really rough, and hostile aliens are invading through a sky tunnel or one group of superpowered mutants develops different evolutionary philosophies than another group of jessicasuperpowered mutants, then you need a bit of extra muscle on your team. Black Widow is our sassy assassin with a troubled past trying to do what’s right. She
doesn’t always agree with our methods but she’ll be there for a friend. Jessica Jones has an equally troubled past and also a drinking stormproblem, but you guys she is super strong and she will literally blow this town to pieces before she lets another man tell her what to do. And then of COURSE we need Ororo Munroe, aka my girl Storm, to keep everybody in line. She’s a QUEEN y’all, and a former jewel thief, and even more formerly worshipped as a goddess in Africa, which really is the goal, isn’t it?

carterNot every problem can be solved with punches and lightning UNFORTUNATELY, so we need a scientific genius along: Samantha Carter. What is she a scientist of? I don’t even remember anymore, but she can explain just about anything and extrapolate just about everything else. When we are facing some technological threat, Sam will technobabble the shit out of it and find a way to fix the unfixable.

clonesWe need every member of clone club. Obviously. Sarah will recklessly launch herself into trouble for any of us…Cosima will team up in the lab with Samantha Carter and add some biology technobabble to her mechanical technobabble…Allison will bring refreshments and possibly shoot someone if necessary…Rachel will be our resident stone cold bitch and help out just as long as our goals align…and when all else fails, REE REE REE, here comes Helena with a crossbow. These gals are already a mini squad, but I can’t invite one without inviting them all.

paul-kidby_granny_weatherwax-001And finally, Granny Weatherwax. Sometimes you need a little help from a witch. Far more often, you need a little sense smacked into your head by an older lady in a tall hat. Granny isn’t going to give you what you think you want. She’s going to give you what you know you really need, and she’s probably going to achieve it through the judicious application of Headology.
That’s the squad…for now! I’m looking forward to the next batch of ladies to catch my eye, and of course, am always open to suggestion.

squad goals

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Or as the baby lovingly screams: “GIRLS!!”

As usual, I couldn’t sleep the other night, so I rested my body in bed and fantasized about which badass ladies I will have in my crew one day, when I inevitably have the clout and technology necessary to make them all real.

Ellen_Ripley_badassThe leader of our squad, of course, is Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley. She’s the gruff mom type who makes all of the tough but ultimately practical decisions. When the rest of us inevitably eff up the plan, however, she’ll be there to swoop in and save our asses with her flamethrower ablazing and blow that monster out of the goddamn airlock. She might yell, but it’s only because she cares.

Furiosa_2015xena-warrior-princess-003Backing her up we’ve got some brooding muscle: Xena Warrior Princess and Imperator Furiosa. Both of these ladies have rough pasts and a grim desire to atone for the wrongs they’ve committed by helping others. Xena’s done a better job retaining her goofy sense of humor, but don’t piss either one of them off or you’ll get your ass handed back on a platter. Warlords, post-apocalyptic dictators, gods? Sorry. You’re not getting through this line of defense.

mako-moriOur warriors will take the brunt of the hand-to-hand combat, but the more sensitive members of the team still shouldn’t be trifled with. Mako Mori has been waiting most of her life for this team-up. “This is for my family!” she cries, as Xena holds her back. Xena, of course, wants to shelter her beloved teammates from going down the same difficult road she did, but at some point she’s got to let Mako rule her own life.

marthaAll this combat means we need a reliable doctor on the team, but she’s also got to hold her own in a lot of unpredictable, life- and world-threatening situations. What do you do when you need a doctor? You call in Martha Jones, of course! When she isn’t patching up the rest of us knuckleheads she is heading up her own missions and saving the world.

It’s possible that our enemies will pose a more vanessa ivesmetaphysical threat, which is why we also need a couple of witches on board: specifically, Vanessa Ives and Hermione Granger. Vanessa can be fragile and needs the love and support of her team to work through hard times, but if anything comes creeping up from hell to mess with us you better believe she’ll bust out some Verbis Diablo and destroy everything they hold dear. After which she’ll get some good mom hugs from Ripley because she deserves it dammit. “Close your eyes, baby,” says Ripley, and shields her from the rest of the fight.

hermioneHermione is our youngest member, but she is also the ideological heart of the team. Her brilliant research and enthusiasm for noble causes rejuvenates the rest of us when it would be too easy to succumb to cynicism and despair in the face of overwhelming odds. She’s our Lisa Simpson, but with the added bonus that she can also disarm and disable our opponents with numerous clever spells.

uhuraWe’re going to encounter a lot of strange and interesting cultures in our intergalactic adventures, which is why we need an experienced explorer with advanced linguistic training. Nyota Uhura it is! With all the tortured souls in this crew, it never hurts to have another level head pointing out the obvious and holding the rest of us to some class. The answer isn’t always busting heads. Sometimes you need a little diplomacy. Or sometimes you just need to lock Mr. Adventure in a closet while the rest of the ladies get on with things.

FifthElement148Finally, when all else fails, when absolute evil is bearing down on the world and nothing else can stop it, the fifth element herself pops up in glorious Leeloo ex machina and saves the day. “What is love?” she asks, but the answer is obvious. It’s the support of your gals when you need it most.

learning to fail

I didn’t learn how to deal with failure until I was 23. It was a hard lesson, and one that I wish I had learned sooner. If you really want to humble somebody who has always been a star academic? Boot them out of the school system and let them fall flat on their face as they grapple with the fact that the real world is nothing like school.

This probably began with my mega middle child syndrome. MEGA. I’m number 2 of 6 now, but in my formative years I was number 2 of 3 and that never wore off. You know the stereotype: the middle kid strives to please in order to stand out between the oldest and the baby. My older sibling had a childhood illness, my younger sibling was the only boy, so I think my self-imposed drive for achievement was inevitable. The real conflict was that I also had massive mortification at the thought of appearing egotistical, so I simultaneously desired to EXCEL IN ALL THINGS while also NOT HAVE ANYONE MAKE A BIG DEAL ABOUT IT.

By junior high my classmates made a game out of trying to find out my test scores, because while they would compare answers I would silently guard my paper and refuse to admit that yes, I got an A+. I will never forget the moment in 8th grade when a boy who was struggling in math failed a test and yelled at me, “I BET YOU GOT 100%!” That really cemented my neurosis. I wanted to be the best, but jeez I didn’t want anyone else to feel bad about it! In an earlier instance of me wildly overthinking the matter, I won a D.A.R.E. essay contest and then lost my nerve and didn’t give my parents the invitation to the award ceremony. Somehow in my mind that would have been showing off. So then when the ceremony came around and everybody’s parents were there but mine, I was pretty sad!

Once I reach a particular bar, it is impossible to achieve anything less without feeling like an abject failure. For example, once I achieved straight A grades in junior high, the slightest dip was absolutely unacceptable. It took me until freshman year of college to get a B+ again and I totally lost my shit. Outrageous levels of meltdown. Crying on the phone meltdown. Wondering what I was doing in college meltdown.

[Aside: Though to be honest, I still don’t think I deserved that B+! I will be angry to the grave! The B I got the following year, in a writing tutor course–okay that one was deserved, I don’t have the patience to be a tutor. But the intro English course? DAMN THAT TEACHER’S ASSISTANT! I was simultaneously taking an upper division literature class and I aced it! ACED IT!]

[Ahem.]

Here’s another embarrassing example. In fourth grade I joined an advanced placement program. We met once a week to get extra lessons from a rotating selection of teachers, just oddball stuff to keep us from getting bored academically. One week we had a math teacher explain ratios to us. There wasn’t a test. There wasn’t any work beyond what we did in class that day, and what we did in class was build a three dimensional kite out of straws and tissue paper to demonstrate using ratios to build things at scale. Welp, I didn’t entirely understand the concept. Unacceptable!! I had a complete meltdown at home that night because clearly I couldn’t be in this class and omg I’m so stupid why don’t I understaaaand. My mom talked me out of dropping the class (thanks, mom!) and that was that. But this tendency to freak out and want to quit as soon as something got difficult stuck around. I did not know how to deal with failure, so the obvious solution was to work my butt off at the stuff I could do, and avoid all the stuff I couldn’t do.

So now we’ve come back around to the total failure that was 2008-2009. I worked so hard to do perfectly in school (I had a grades-based scholarship in addition to my preexisting perfectionism) that I didn’t have time to do the things that would actually transition me out of school, like taking internships or other real world training. I moved home, utterly humiliated about being an unemployed college graduate, and then moved out again, even more humiliated about being a multi-minimum-wage-job-working graduate. To cap it off, I was also in a total failure of a relationship depressing for its own reasons. So, you know, my worst fear realized: I was a failure.

Long story short, I dug myself out of it. I worked. And worked. And worked. And got myself single (briefly!). And I did a lot of soul searching and research and picked out an online graduate program. This time when I went back to school I juggled it with employment and volunteerism and by the time I graduated again I knew what I wanted to do and had the experience to do it.

Failing was the best thing that could have happened to me. Once I learned how to recover from failure, I gained the courage to do things that had previously been impossible to attempt. I got a handful of short stories published (previously impossible because the submission process involves a whole lot of rejection). I got jobs in my actual field (previously impossible because the application and interview process of non-minimum-wage jobs involves a whole lot of rejection). You get the point.

And here’s the kicker: now that I understand it, I completely embrace this part of me. I love my middle child-ness. I’m grateful that my perfectionism pushed me as far as it did before I had to take the wheel, because let’s be honest: when I “worked my way up” I had the good fortune to start with a free undergraduate degree and roommates to help keep a roof over my head.

I now know how to manipulate my fear of failure into productivity. I set big goals, and then I go wildly overboard in order to meet them–and when I don’t quite make it, I laugh it off and appreciate the fact that I got a lot farther than I would have if my goal had been set lower. Okay, first I mope around the house mentally playing the pipe organ like the Phantom of the Opera for a few days, and then I laugh it off.

Oh and these days I act like an egomaniac for comedic purposes (and also because obviously I am good at everything and never wrong), which my husband and siblings think is sooooo funny.

Because I’m also hilarious.