It’s a phenomenon almost everyone over 30 is familiar with: the older you are, the more quickly time seems to pass. For me, the year 2011 flew by in a single, zoetropish blur. It was by far the “fastest” year I’ve ever had, and I am not sure I like that. Because the closer I get to 40 the more evident it is that my time upon this Earth has reached — or will soon reach — the tipping point: more trail behind me than ahead of me. And ironically, there are now more things I want to do than ever before, and seemingly less time than ever in which to do them. And so on, and so forth. Insert the usual midlife analogies here. Blah, blah, and blah.
Overall, it was a rather good year.
I retained my full-time civilian employment — no small feat in this economy of ours — and was in fact able to secure both a raise, and the appreciation of my boss and co-workers by being a pinch-hitter when it came to handling call. Those of you who work IT or IS will know what I am talking about when I use the word “call,” and if you’re not IS or IT, you’ve doubtless had to call about this computer issue or that computer issue, for your own day job, so I hope I don’t need to explain it more than that. For those of us on the receiving end, call sucks. But it’s also the best way I’ve found, at my current level, to have an immediate and positive impact on my team as a whole. Which is pretty much my philosophy with my Army job too: I will never be the strongest, fastest, toughest, or smartest, but I like to find ways to help out — and often simply helping out is more than enough.
Speaking of my Army job, I got promoted — CW2, Chief Warrant Officer — and while I did spend the usual more-than-two-weeks away from home (Fort Dix) I did not have to spend them in Iraq or Afghanistan. Which has been true every year I’ve been in the Reserve. It’s strange being one of those minority guys who have been in almost ten years, and yet haven’t had to go spend time in the sandbox. All the same, every year I’ve been allowed to stay home with my young daughter, is a year I’d not trade for anything. And I’ve still been able to contribute positively to King and Country, beyond the bare necessities of annual training or weekend drill. (Ergo: helping out.)
In 2011 I went from having two published stories, to having 11 published stories; including a cover story in the December issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact, as well as a collaboration with my mentor, Mike Resnick. I got the Analog readers’ choice award — the AnLab — for last year’s story in the November issue, and I saw my first foreign reprint, for the same story, in a Russian digest of high repute. Mike and I did a total of three collaborations — two of the three due out next year — and have become good friends, in addition to being teacher-and-student. And finally, my exploits in Analog, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and elsewhere, have given me the profile boost necessary to begin building a working relationship with both a major agent and a major novel publisher — the dividends of which will hopefully come forth in the next two or three years. Providing that I don’t slack off, get distracted, or otherwise fritter away the opportunities that are being placed before me.
If that sounds a little too deterministic — placed — I should say that I very much believe in good fortune. There are wonderful things that are happening (and have happened) for me which I could not have planned and over which I’ve had almost no control. Just the same, I also believe that hard work and creativity and pouring energy into multiple avenues all have a way of generating luck. Just as helping out — the mere act of expending extra effort so that others don’t necessarily have to — also has a way of generating luck. Almost always of the good variety. So, I look to the new year with much of the same attitude that I’ve taken into the last several: more hard work, more energy expended, more helping out, and hopefully the ball will just keep rolling.
And of course, you can’t have good fortune without being very, very, very thankful. I am thankful my wife, daughter, and I have enjoyed good health this year, and no serious injury. I am thankful that both of our cars still run, and that we’ve managed to stay afloat with bills and a mortgage. I’m thankful that my little family has enjoyed the generosity and support of both my parents, and also aunts and uncles and my sister and her husband and family. Nobody is an island, and where families and friendships especially are concerned, everything is like a web: interconnected and interdependent. The more you invest in the web, the more the web invests in you. Or at least that’s my experience.
I’m also thankful that 2011 has been unusual in that it’s the year I’ve gotten to know some of the people in my Ward. For those not in the know, the Latter-Day Saints operate what are called Wards, and these are organized into Stakes. Which are somewhat analogous to parishes and diocese, respectively. When my wife and I moved back to Utah, we bought a house that was walking distance from the chapel where our Ward meets each Sunday — and during the week for other activities. I am a notorious hermit about most church duties. My time is precious to me, and I don’t give it up easily or without grumbling. This year, though, I’ve felt my grinchy heart softening. I’ve made more effort to be plugged in, aware, and active in my Ward, and among the brethren with whom I share it. I still have a lot of work to do, but unlike years past, the additional effort made in 2011 did not feel like a burden. And this heartens me for the year ahead.
Speaking of which, I ought to dwell a bit on goals and plans. As my mentor Dean Wesley Smith is good at pointing out, the difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal is something which can be accomplished 100% under your own control, while dreams are largely up to other people — or the aligning of events and circumstances which are most often not under your direct control. Ergo, my writing goal for 2012 is to write no less than 7,000 new words every week, while my writing dream is to sell my first novel to a traditional publishing house — hopefully, Baen Books. The first part? Totally under my control. If I am disciplined about how I use my time, 7,000 words a week is perfectly within my ability; even on busy or disrupted weeks. But getting a Baen contract? Not in my power to deliver. I can go half way — turning in a finished manuscript — but the rest is not up to me.
I also plan to complete (at last!) my home office — which has been in a perpetual state of demolition and re-finishing since 2008. It’s been apparent for the last two years that for me to be functioning at my best, I really do need to have a space of my own. I haven’t had an office — really, just a room where I can close the door, and nobody messes with me while I am in it — since 2003. Almost ten years. It may have been a luxury before, but now it’s something of a necessity. With some work and a bit of money for paint and a few other supplies, I should be able to move into the office by my Birthday in April. This is not a hard-and-fast date, but it’s something to shoot for, given how close my wife and I are to wrapping the project.
And — sigh of sighs — I am going back to school. Urk! I hate college. Hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it. Have avoided it. Tried to shimmy and shake my way out of it. And, so far, have done damned well for a guy with only a HS edumacation. But the writing’s on the wall. I can’t avoid it forever. I have to finish my BS, and then, probably, pursue an MS afterward. We live in an era when education is more important than ever before. And if those writing-related dreams don’t lead to a river of gold, well, it’s a good idea to have some tangible, objective education targets to shoot for. Because a chap in my place with degree(s) is far, far better off than a chap without same.
Of course, much of this depends on effective use of time, at which I am rather terrible. I like to chide myself that I am a professional slacker. But that’s because it’s true. I am a pro at finding ways to divert and distract myself from jobs that need doing. When asked what my favorite pastime or activity is, I usually — and honestly — respond with, “Goofing off!” But all signs are pointing to the need for me to make 2012 more structured, more regimented, and less chaotic. I won’t make my writing goals — or my fitness goals, I have those too — or a lot of other good things happen, unless I can use my hours and my minutes more wisely than I have in the last few years.
2011 was good. No question about it. But 2012 could be much, much better. Indeed, it deserves to be much better. There is so much happening — electricity at the fingertips! — I just need to “level up” and make it happen.