Yearly Themes

2018 has come to a close, which puts us in the time of year when a lot of people talk about new year resolutions.  I’m not fond of resolutions myself, I feel like it’s more or less starting off with a handicap and setting yourself up for failure.  A lot of the things people resolve to do are things that are best worked toward and take a lot of time to rearrange your life to actually do, and the all-or-nothing, cold-turkey approach to taking them on leads to optimistic late-December people turning into resigned mid-January people going back to the sorts of things they’d been doing a month before.

An alternative to the traditional resolution that I do like is the concept of ‘yearly themes,’ an idea presented by CGP Grey in Cortex, one of the podcasts he’s on.  A yearly theme is, rather than a set rule that is easily broken if you just don’t have the willpower like a resolution, more of an abstract concept that you try and keep in mind and work toward as the year goes on.  There isn’t a strict commitment to anything, and you could reasonably go days or weeks without paying any mind to a theme and still be getting something good out of it.  It’s more a lens with which to view your life, and work on larger concepts that come into play in your day to day.

Grey’s first yearly theme he discussed on the podcast was ‘the Year of Less,’ where he focused on paring down his work and his time commitments to be more in line with how he wanted to be focusing his attention, trimming down the stuff he was doing that for all intents and purposes was busywork that was stretching him too thin.  It seemed to work out well for him, and feels like a better, more actionable, and less punishing way to go about working on enacting changes in one’s life.

And, best of all compared to resolutions, yearly themes are not actually tied to the calendar.  The start of the year is a good time to think about it, if you’re wanting to try and assign some abstract structure to your life, but often your life doesn’t like fitting into neat twelve-month cycles.  Yearly themes are about recognizing something you want to fix, codifying a philosophy on how you want to fix it, and putting it into practice in a long-form way.

I first set a yearly theme for myself at the start of 2018, and likely it would not surprise anyone to hear that my theme for 2018 was ‘the Year of Spanish.’  I’d already started in on this journey before January, but I had decided then to really try and make it a focus for myself, which has led to the progress I’ve made through more and more rigorous consistency, led to the starting of this blog, and had a number of exterior benefits for me as well.  And, additionally, it’s clear that although it’s been a calendar year, the Year of Spanish isn’t over yet.  Depending on how 2019 goes, the Year of Spanish might end up lasting over two years.  Who knows?  I have a goal in mind for where I want to be in my skill level before I remove my focused effort on learning the language, and until I get to that point, it’s going to be an important theme for me to keep in mind.  So as 2019 starts, I am happy to reaffirm the Year of Spanish for myself.

That said, that being the only theme I have in mind has been a bit of a drag from time to time.  Learning a new language is by its nature something that requires a lot of patience, and the day to day often feels very static.  Get up, go to work, eat meals, do chores, work on Spanish, go to sleep, repeat.  This isn’t always a bad thing, as I like having routines rather than being at loose ends, but I don’t like the feeling of being in a hamster wheel, and I’ve had to put in a lot of special effort to remind myself that progress is being made on learning Spanish, because any handful of given days grouped together don’t feel like all that much is changing.

One of the bigger courses of action I took was in November, by putting new focus on my fiction writing which had gone long-neglected through the Year of Spanish, having a successful-within-my-personal-goals NaNoWriMo challenge, followed by continued writing throughout December that was also successful based on the expectations I placed on myself (my scaled back daily goals after the NaNo challenge changed to 750 words of fiction OR for a blog per day, rather than doubling up on the days that I work on blogs like I had been, and that spending the equivalent amount of time in a day editing fiction rather than drafting new work also counted).  This was a great addition to my day because, in addition to feeling better emotionally to be writing, there’s a more tangible sense of progress as word counts go up and stories get finished.

It could be easy to just chuck this in as a yearly theme and say that it’s The Year of Writing now, and that the Year of Writing started in November, but it isn’t really that good of a fit.  Spanish being a theme is good because of how monolithic a task it is, but at this point both the Spanish work and the writing work function more as a daily activity.  I can take the theme of Spanish and have it in mind when making decisions on what to do and how to spend my time towards reaching that ultimate goal, but with writing, well, it’s sort of either on or off.  I’m either writing, and therefore reaching toward the goals I have, or I’m not.

So, instead, I am looking at things from another angle.  It’s true that writing makes things feel less like a hamster wheel, but only in a way that’s more a sleight of hand than anything else.  That feeling is a symptom of a deeper dissatisfaction of staying in place, that I’m resting on my laurels (many of which are not even earned or deserved) and failing to really move forward with my life in variety of different ways, largely out of fear of change and a desire to avoid discomfort.  And for that, I am declaring it the Year of Striving.  Most of my sense of dissatisfaction is tied to that sense of complacency, and the only way to really go about fixing that is to try and move outside of my comfort zone.

This has direct application in my language learning journey, as right now I’m really quite comfortable with reading and watching tv shows.  That work is still very valuable, as it adds new vocabulary and strengthens my understanding of the words I already know, and I can feel more and more of the language sticking in my head and becoming automatic, but one of the bigger deficits is clearly the lack of time spent working on speaking.

I am and have been satisfied with letting that wait until I’m further along before working on it, but I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit that part of it is just a discomfort with taking the step to really work on improving it.  I’m a fairly shy and introverted person, and speaking a language really requires other people.  I’ve been very reluctant to start the process of finding someone to do that with and reaching out, even if most people in that category would be tutors to start, people who would be helping me as a job, and thus would pretty much have to be patient and indulgent of my stumbling errors.

So does this mean that starting now in the first days of the new year I’m going to be finding tutors on italki and getting to work speaking?  Well, no, it’s a yearly theme, not a resolution.  It will be a goal I have in mind that I’m going to be working toward, and it’s one I’ll probably start in on soon.  I have a couple of benchmarks I’d like to hit first in my listening comprehension, though.  My ability to follow more and more complicated conversations is getting better, but until I’m able to listen to something like Daniel San GMR or watch a show like Club de Cuervos without ever getting lost, I’m going to feel like working at speaking is a waste of time, because I’m going to need to be able to follow whatever the hell the other person is saying in order to have an actual conversation.  When I’m able to do that without trouble, at least as trouble-free as I can follow simpler shows like My Little Pony now, it will be time to start talking in earnest.  And as that listening comprehension benchmark is the next step on getting out of my comfort zone with Spanish, it’s what I’m going to be gearing my current time on achieving.

And with head held high looking forward, let’s look back on the previous week and see how I did.

Tuesday 12/25

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 7 chapters of Luna Llena, ~120 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Watership Down, 1 episode of Hero Mask, ~70 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 12/26

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 6 chapters of Luna Llena, ~100 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Watership Down, 1 episode of Hero Mask, ~70 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 12/27

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 5 chapters of Luna Llena, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Watership Down, 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 12/28

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 4 chapters of La Tumba, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 12/29

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 5 chapters of La Tumba, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 12/30

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 7 chapters of La Tumba, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 12/31

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 4 chapters of La Tumba, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Little Witch Academia, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 1400 XP, 210 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 17 tv episodes, and 1 YouTube episode watched, 440 minutes
  • Total reading: 38 chapters read, 650 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 21 hours 40 minutes

Another pretty good week.  Parts of it were a disaster for other reasons, but I managed to keep my study numbers looking good.  I finished out Luna Llena and moved onto La Tumba, the next book in the series, and I’m approaching the end of that one pretty quick moving into next week.  These Dresden Files books are rather breezy, which is helped along by how exciting they are that I’ve occasionally let time get away from me as I read a bunch at one time.

I also finished off Hero Mask, which at the end of the day was a pretty awful show, but eh, I finished it, and I ended up enjoying Watership Down quite a bit.  Afterwards I tried to watch an episode of Bojack Horseman again and see how it would go without subtitles, and I found I could follow it fine, probably better than I followed it with subtitles in the early going of the show.  I then noticed a Bojack Christmas special I missed, and watched that, too, but that’s all the revisiting of it I feel like for now.  I’ve picked up Little Witch Academia as an additional thing to watch, as I’ve heard good things, but I’m not sure it’s really my style yet.  I’ll get a better take on it in another couple of episodes.

Well now, let’s take a look at the numbers for all of December.

  • Total Duolingo: 10,700 XP, 930 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 64 tv episodes, 2 movies, and 13 youtube videos watched, 1,980 minutes
  • Total reading: 106 chapters, 1/3rd of a book, and 1 book read, 2,670 minutes
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 930 minutes
  • Total Time: 93 hours 0 minutes

And here’s the breakdown for money spent.

  • Ubik, Fiction, Used Copy, Thrift Books, $15.72
  • Yo No Soy tu Perfecta Hija Mexicana, Fiction, New Copy, Barnes and Noble, $13.83
  • Tormenta, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $4.11
  • Luna Llena, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $4.11
  • La Tumba, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $4.11
  • Netflix Subscription Standard HD Plan, Television and Movie Streaming, $10.99 per month, $10.99
  • Amount Spent on Fiction Books: $41.88
  • Amount Spent on Services: $10.99
  • Total Spent: $52.87

A high-powered month overall.  I think my reading speed is increasing some, as the Dresden Files books aren’t incredibly brief, and I’m getting through the books at a pretty fast clip.  I’ve also just been watching more in general, so the numbers are all pretty high.  I’m happy with how things are going and am glad I closed out the year on a solid note.

If you’re curious about my fiction writing, as I covered that in some detail last month, I ended December with having written 14,723 words of fiction, and when combined with blog writing of 12,835 words, that comes to a total of 27,558 altogether.  Lower than the NaNoWriMo month, but a happy total for me.  Stories get finished if words get written.

Well, I’ll keep it brief, as the main body of the blog covers hopes and plans in plenty of detail already.  Until next week.  TTFN.

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