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On Turning 30

I had a birthday last week. Honestly, as birthdays go, it was a rather anticlimactic one. Compared to the year I turned 21, when I celebrated in Cape Town to the music of Xhosa traditional dancers (in my History of South Africa class), or the year I turned 19, when I was serenaded by 150 pagans on Popham Beach in Maine, or the year I turned 11 and my friends and I broke the family picnic table by horsing around at my party (don’t ask), this one was relatively quiet. Husband and I went out to breakfast (Mama’s Royal Cafe in Oakland); we went to an open house that we couldn’t resist, to look at a house that we couldn’t afford; and then we went for a hike, and out to eat again, and back home to watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica (yes, we may be the only TV- and DVD-equipped nerds on Earth who haven’t finished the series yet — please, gods, no spoilers!)

But as I think is probably the case in any year when you’ve got a birthday ending in a 0, I found myself thinking a little bit about my life and my short- and medium-term-goals. This is especially true for me because I’ve got another big transition coinciding with the birthday; as of next Monday, I will no longer be a student. Likely ever again. My only titles will be “novelist-in-training,” “part-time sociology prof” and “human.”

So, with the summer stretching out ahead of me as a largely Big Unscheduled Space and only one day a week officially spoken for in the fall, I figured now was a good time to set myself some goals and draw up a mini-bucket list for this next cycle around the sun. And, by posting them here, I have declared them publicly and (in theory) now have to complete them 🙂 So here goes. Before my 31st birthday next May, I plan to:

  1. Finish a draft of my novel. This is the biggie. By current calculations, I’m about halfway there right now, and my pace is picking up, so if I don’t spawn too many more hidden chapters and I’m able to keep my nose pointed into the wind, I should be able to have something together by this time next year.
  2. Transition successfully to official freelance-dom. This won’t be that big a change, because really I’ve been a de facto freelancer for the last 3 or 4 years, but I’m taking it as an opportunity to work on things like drawing up a daily schedule and sticking to it (checking Facebook only during designated break times, I’m looking at you!)
  3. Learn some Spanish. I’m already working on this one. Thanks to Jennifer over at The Endangered Bookeater, I learned about a really cool online language learning program that contracts with my local library (and might contract with yours); so, unlike with Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone or any of the other language-learning programs that I’ve tinkered with in the past few years, this one is free. AND, also unlike Pimsleur, its lessons come in handy chunks that you can usually complete in about 10 minutes. So I can now say “Hablo un poco de español” and actually mean it. AND it has all sorts of random fun languages like Korean and Scottish Gaelic, if I get ambitious later.
  4. Continue The Great Green Life project. Since my last birthday, we’ve started composting; we try to buy local food whenever we can; I’ve switched most of our periodicals over to e-copies; we changed the cat’s litter to a non-clay variety (better for all creatures in the house); and I’ve taken a few other steps to try to reduce our eco-footprint. In the next year, among other things, I’m going to take a long look at my New Book Buying habit, and see if I can’t convince myself to buy used books a little more. On that note:
  5. Clear out my clutter. Husband and I have lived in this apartment for almost three years now, and we’re starting to feel as though we’re outgrowing the space. Although, if the gods are good, we might be moving to a bigger spot by the end of the year, I’ve come to the conclusion that if the apartment was big enough for us when we moved in, it should still be big enough for us now: we just need to take a hard look at three years’ worth of accumulated possessions and see whether we really DO need all those National Geographic back issues.
  6. Find a good volunteer gig. Although I am increasingly able to believe that, as Husband gently reminds me, “Novelist is a legitimate full-time job,” I still feel like, with all this unstructured time I’m going to end up with, I ought to be doing something to help out in my local community. So there are two places I’m going to check out in the next few months, both vaguely related to my novel-writing goals. The first is 826 Valencia in San Francisco; it’s an after-school tutoring program for K-12 students, but they also have lots of opportunities to work on creative writing gigs with kids. The second (more directly book-related) is the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory in Marin. As you might have gathered if you’ve followed this blog for a while, raptors play a pretty large role in the book I’m writing, and I’ve been told by folks whose opinions I trust that banding wild birds (one of the volunteer gigs you can get at the GGRO) is one of the best strategies you can adopt for getting to know how it feels to interact with hawks on a regular basis.

That’s it — or, at least, those are the ones I intend to hold myself to. There are others, of course, the omnipresent stuff about getting into better shape, having more date nights with Husband, learning to enjoy doing nothing, etc. etc., but right now, at the start of my fourth decade (eep!), these are the more concrete things I’d like to be able to point to to say I’ve accomplished this year.

So, here goes nothing.

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