Yearly Themes for 2020

The real yearly theme is, as always, hoping it's better than last year.

So here we are in 2020.  After spending the last month or so reflecting on stuff that’s happened up to this point, it’s now a new year, which comes with new things to look forward to.  Last year had its ups and downs, but trended toward positive for me, and I hope that continues onward.  I have lots of things that I hope to accomplish before the next time the calendar clicks itself over, but before fully diving gung-ho into the future, there’s one last point of reflection to go through.

Last year at this time, I wrote a blog setting my yearly themes for 2019.  Yearly themes are a concept similar to resolutions, but with a more holistic view of goal setting.  The standard New Year’s Resolution has a lot of flaws tied up in it, as they are often so specific that there are fail-states to them, resulting in you getting discouraged at the first sign of failure, but also too nebulous to really be actionable, so you can’t even hold to them in the first place.

Everybody loves the “lose weight” resolution, for example, but hardly anyone follows through with it.  That goal is nebulous and icky to think about, even if you have a specific target weight in mind, because it at best hints at a general lifestyle change.  So you do your best and try to enact a lifestyle change all at once through sheer willpower, hoping that the resolution-vibes will carry you through.  Maybe you start a diet, begin a gym regimen, or both, and just white-knuckle it for two weeks until you inevitably have a bad day, give up, and go back to how things were before.  Which is the normal fate for resolutions, the ones that actually work are unusual, and probably much better planned out than other, similar ones.  Failure states are just the norm.

A yearly theme, on the other hand, isn’t a resolution at all, but rather a guiding principle on which to structure your thinking and planning as you make decisions.  There are no failure states in a yearly theme, because there are no direct goals per se, just things to keep in mind when setting goals.  The lose weight resolution fails when the diet or exercise regimen break down, but the yearly theme of personal health takes note that the failure shows that the plan wasn’t sustainable in the long-run, at least not with zero slip-ups, but recognizes the attempt was a good step in the right direction.  Lesson learned from the failure, new plans can then be formed with the theme in mind until you find the balance that actually works for you.  Maybe all that year you never manage to have many noticeable accomplishments or lose a ton of weight, but if you kept the theme in mind and used it to inform your decisions, you’ll likely have noticed a change in your life toward that goal.  It isn’t something you can really fail at if you keep it in your conscious mind, and is nebulous in a good way, because it can be applied broadly to lots of decisions.

In my blog last year, I reaffirmed a previous theme I had set, The Year of Spanish, which I had started the year before.  It had served me well, and I saw no reason to end the theme for the year just because the calendar had switched, so I kept it on as something to keep up as more of the same.  At the same time, while it was serving me well for this project specifically, I felt it was time I also added a new theme, The Year of Striving, to shift my focus on the rest of my life.  I noticed that in spite of how things were going with this project, I was in a stagnant and unhappy place in my life for a variety of reasons.  I knew I felt that way, and had felt it for a long time, but I’d accumulated a lot of friction, so changing that situation required me to push myself.  I knew I had to be gentle and work at it in a level-headed way, so I couldn’t just crash-course my life with a huge change or anything, I just needed to start working on it, putting myself out there to move forward, even if it wasn’t comfortable, to strive for changes.  So that’s what I settled on.  It even had an application for the Spanish as well, urging me to push myself out of comfort zones with my learning.

So I worked my way through 2019 with those themes in my head, thinking through how I could apply those ideas to my life.  The Year of Spanish was old hat at that point, as I’d built a rock solid routine the year before, including the creation of this blog, and things were going well with it, because a lot of my life revolved around this project to some degree.  When I picked up books and movies, I approached them always with the question ¿Y esto está disponible en español? much to the annoyance of friends and family, and when I made plans for the day, I thought through where I was at with my study time first.

Reaffirming the theme seemed natural then, but the reality was it was kind of unnecessary.  Spanish was already integrated into my daily life in a way that would be difficult to decouple, so what value to the theme really bring?  Did I need to step back and have the thought in mind of my yearly theme of Spanish when I was already engrossed in the process of studying day to day?  Not really, I don’t think.

The Year of Striving, on the other hand, was something new that I had to figure out how to slot into my life, not only for other things, but for Spanish as well.  I thought that what it meant in the early going was pushing myself toward speaking practice as fast as I could manage, since that was (and is) my weakest point in the language as well as something that I have anxiety about.  It’s much easier to not work on speaking that much and focus on stuff that is comfortable to me, so I figured busting out of that comfort zone would be worthwhile.  Not being foolhardy, though, I figured it was also important to get my listening comprehension up to a level where I could actually converse with others, not just say something to them and then stare blankly when they said something back that I couldn’t understand.  So my first mode of attack was to focus on listening.

Long-term followers of this blog will know how that changed and evolved over time, as I didn’t stay “focused” on listening for long.  I switched early in the year to a really heavy reading schedule, which showed some good results in everything for a while, but with diminishing returns until I restructured my time into a more split schedule of reading and listening, that has continued on to about this point.  That might sound like I put the listening work on the back burner and “abandoned” striving toward a point where I could really work on speaking, but that wasn’t really my thought process.  I kept pushing myself to advance, even at output, as I started the practice of the once-a-month blog that was drafted in Spanish, and the truth is that almost all my decision-making in the broad strokes had been made around the goal of increasing my comprehension level.  Lots of the research I’ve read on language learning points to reading as the fundamental piece of the puzzle for really getting a new language, so it’s always played a key role in my work, and I changed things up the way I did in order to keep on top of my listening comprehension skills, either working at improving them or just keeping tabs on where I was at.

All that said, at the end of the year, I hadn’t devoted any real time to talking practice outside of my daily pronunciation work of reading out loud.  At the same time, I’ve seen my overall comprehension grow larger and more nuanced, so at the end of the day, I think my choices were good ones.  I think rather than failing to follow through with striving toward speaking over the year, the real mistake was misjudging where I was at and where I was aiming to get over the course of the year back when I established the theme.  Striving was achieved, it was just the striving of someone in over their head and more confident than was warranted, leading to what I would classify as a victory, but perhaps a mercurial one.

Outside of Spanish, the Year of Striving was anything but mercurial.  I don’t get too personal in this blog, but over 2019 I: quit smoking, came out as transgender to myself and to most of the people/areas in my life, changed careers to something more long term and with health insurance, started taking better care of myself, and began the process of transitioning to be the real and authentic me.  I have never strived so damn hard for anything before.  The Year of Striving was something wildly successful and wildly necessary for me, and it turned what was a pretty terrible year externally into something wonderful for me.

So that said, where does that leave us in 2020?

First and foremost is the retiring of The Year of Spanish, a bit belatedly at 24 months.  I’m not done learning Spanish by a longshot, but it’s become so integrated into my life that there isn’t a necessity to list it as a theme.  It would be like declaring something The Year of Toothbrushing, you know? I already have that habit ingrained so hard I’d feel disgusting trying to purposefully skip it, so I don’t need to think about it.  Spanish is part of how I plan my day and it will continue to be so forever, even if I eventually shift my focus to a third language.  At this point, the theme is dead space in my head.

Likewise, it is also time to put The Year of Striving away.  I accomplished a lot of important things in 2019 and am well positioned for 2020 now.  I can’t let things sit and become static through a lack of action, but the ball’s already rolling on most things, and I don’t feel like there’s a big utility in pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, with one major exception, which is this whole working-on-talking-in-Spanish thing.  On that front, my listening comprehension is pretty solid now and I’ve been thinking about taking that plunge soon, anyway.  On the other hand, I’m feeling a little vulnerable and nervous about it beyond just the anxiety of speaking in Spanish, because of my transition, and based on everything I’ve read I really don’t think I’m handicapping myself by putting it off.  So as of right now, it’s a tabled issue, which I will revisit in the future.  Not as a theme, because it’s just one thing, just as a point of action for this project.

With both themes retired, that means it’s time for a brand new theme, and as I look at the things that I have to do this year, the plans I’ve made, and what’s actually valuable to have in mind with them, I’m ready to christen 2020 as The Year of Personal Fulfillment.

I fought through the hard parts that made me super uncomfortable, coming out to the internet, coming out to my parents, coming out to my ex-wife, and moving forward at being the real me.  I took a stagnant, place-holder job that I’ve been treading water doing for 3+ years and fought my way into working at a real company that has room for advancement and a support structure for a new life that I can build for myself.  I took a 15-year habit and told it to sit down and shut up because it was slowly killing me.  I put on body armor and beat the crap out of 2019 until it cried uncle, because that’s what I needed to do.  Now, though, I don’t need to go to war, I need to keep on with what I’m doing and not let things fall apart, but at the same time I can’t let things grow too comfortable and let myself fall back into a rut on the things that I need to move forward on.  Transitioning isn’t a single event, it’s an ongoing process, and a job with room for advancement requires one to actually try to advance.

Striving is, at this point, too antagonistic, and calling it good it too passive, but everything I’m trying to do is built around making myself happier and more solid in my life: I’m aiming to be personally fulfilled.  I contemplated calling it The Year of Happiness, but that runs the risk of my psyching myself out with “listen, you know how happy you’ll feel eating that entire cake, hun,” which often can work on me without framing the year around making myself “happy.”  Personal contentment is a more complex idea.  It involves happiness, authenticity, self-improvement, and stability, things that sometimes mean making the hard choice of putting down the cake in order to be better in the big picture.  It’s about positioning the choices I make and the things I do to coincide what’s better for me, for my health, for my emotions, and for my position in the world.

Which, to go back on topic, involves Spanish as well.  I know my mood and sense of productivity would take a major hit if I were to drop this project, so I gotta keep language learning in mind with the theme, and if I put off the speaking for too long I’m gonna be in the same boat.  This is as much a project for personal fulfillment as it is anything else, and it will slot in nicely to the theme as a whole.

This blog has run on pretty long as is, and I’m just now getting to the breakdowns, so I’m going to leave this here for now.  Maybe I’ll touch base on the theme more regularly this year, and see how it’s led to actionable goals with the language or if I need to revisit my focuses and themes for the year.

Now then, let’s get to this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 12/31

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 5% of Cien Años de Soledad, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Radio Ambulante, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 1/01

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: .5 cases in Ghosts of Miami, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of  Daniel San GMR, 1 episode of Kiwillius, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 1/02

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 3% of Cien Años de Soledad, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Radio Ambulante, 1 episode of La Zona Cero, 2 episodes of Daniel San GMR, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 1/03

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: .5 cases in Ghosts of Miami, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daneil San GMR, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 1/04

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 5% of Cien Años de Soledad, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Radio Ambulante, 1 episode of No Hay Tos, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 1/05

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 5% of Cien Años de Soledad, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 1/06

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 5% of Cien Años de Soledad, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Kiwillius, 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, 1 episode of No Hay Tos, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1/5 books and 1 video game case, 540 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 9 YouTube episodes and 5 podcasts, 480 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 17 hours 0 minutes

A reasonable, if unexciting start to the new year.  Last week was weird at work, I had part of Monday off in order to use up all my time off for 2019, then worked new year’s eve, had new year’s day off, worked Thursday (which was potentially the busiest day of the year), then because everyone has to work one Saturday per quarter, had Friday off in exchange for the Saturday.  It was definitely odd to go through, and only partially reflects in these numbers.

I am closing in on finishing off Cien Años de Soledad, and am thinking I might end it with a sense of “good riddance,” but we’ll see how that goes.  I’ve also continued plugging along with the normal things to listen to.  A lot of it’s purely authentic content, produced originally in Spanish, and I’m getting very close to understanding all of it to a similar level as I can follow dubbed material.  Interestingly to all of this, as Cien Años de Soledad is “literature,” it’s actually harder for me to follow than a lot of the listening material I’ve been using, which is an odd change of pace compared to how it normally goes.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, as some of the vocab is technically new to me, but it isn’t exactly heavy use vocab that I’m going to run into soon.  Is what it is, I suppose.

I haven’t mentioned helping people on Duolingo much the last few blogs, because I’ve not been doing it as consistently.  I’ve kind of gotten sick of helping people there, because although answering new questions can be interesting, I also get notifications on comments for old sentences I’ve answered questions for, and boy howdy, there are a lot of instances of people asking the same question as one I’ve already answered before.

I don’t want to characterize the whole site as being full of people who go onto the forum, don’t bother reading the previous questions, and asking the same thing again, but it happens a lot.  And in my opinion, if you’re not willing to read through a handful of comments to check to see if your question has already been covered before, I don’t really think it’s worth my time to explain it to you, even if I passive aggressively copy/paste my previous explanation.  It’s turned me off from doing much new helping there, to be honest.  I might come back around, especially if I unsubscribe from future comments in those threads, because I clearly don’t have the patience for stuff like that.

Anyway, let’s close out 2019 all the way by looking over the numbers for December as a whole.

  • Total Duolingo: 620 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 17 tv episodes, 37 youtube videos, and 14 podcasts, 1,950 minutes
  • Total reading: 2(ish) whole books and 1.5 video game cases read, 2,020 minutes
  • Total writing: 1200 words written, 150 minutes
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 720 minutes
  • Total Time: 68 hours 40 minutes

And here’s the breakdown for money spent.

  • Cien Años de Soledad, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $15.59
  • Netflix Subscription Standard HD Plan, Television and Movie Streaming, $10.99 per month, $10.99
  • Disney+ Subscription with Hulu and ESPN+, Television and Movie Streaming, $12.99 per month, $12.99
  • Amount Spent on Fiction Books: $15.59
  • Amount Spent on Services: $23.98
  • Total Spent: $39.57

So a slight increase over November, helped along by me settling into a better work groove that gives me more time to devote to Spanish while at my job.  This might be my semi-stable expectation going forward, though I suspect things will change again in a few weeks, since I’m expecting a change of schedule here pretty soon.  Spending is down a bit, too, since I only bought the one book that’s a bit of a doozy for time investment.  I’ll be able to manage bringing a paperback to and from my desk now, too, so I’ll finally be able to read El Mundo Según Garp, which I bought a while ago but haven’t been able to get to logistically.  That’ll be nice to tackle.

My writing figures are still a disaster, as mirroring last month pretty closely, I wrote 8,560 words for blogs but still no fiction.  This is beginning to turn into a point of emotional stress for me, because I really don’t feel good when I’m not writing regularly.  I’d like to tell you that I used the new year as an excuse and have already written some fiction past the scope of the roundup numbers, but that wouldn’t be truthful.  It’s a really high priority goal for me, though, because if anything fits into The Year of Personal Fulfillment for me, it’s fiction writing.

I don’t have anything in mind aside from that heading into the rest of January.  I have a real important doctor appointment next week, and then my work schedule changes, so I’m going to be seeing where those things leave me as far as my day to day goes, but I have some minor expectations of what’s going to happen with all of that.  I am guessing that I’ll soon be able to reliantly expect to get 90 minutes of reading it while at work, thanks to the sort of schedule I’ll have.  If that comes to pass, that means I’ll probably change up how I treat weekends from 90 minutes reading and 60 minutes listening one day/60 minutes reading and 90 minutes listening the other, to be both focused on listening, since I’ll be getting that extra reading focus more regularly during the week.  That also sounds slightly easier to deal with, because I’ve never quite gotten over the lack of dedicated reading time I’ve felt since quitting smoking.

Jeeze, this blog has grown to be almost twice as long as normal, so I better stop rambling for now.  TTFN.

8 thoughts on “Yearly Themes for 2020

  1. I’m glad to hear you survived 2019 and made some serious progress towards your theme for the year. Hope you keep up that momentum in 2020.

    It’s also great to hear that you’re considering working in some speaking this year. There are a lot of other output strategies you can try as well though besides having conversations in Spanish. Lots of language learners use the shadowing technique or do a lot of structured self-talk. Lately, I’ve been regularly recording myself respond to journal prompts to help continue build my fluidity, activate my passive vocabulary, and to find weak spots/gaps in my knowledge. I do talk to tutors regularly, but mostly because I enjoy it and I like using the language, but not because I think it’s particularly efficient. Most of my actual learning comes from reading/listening/self-talk, with conversations being a way for me to assess how my Spanish is coming along as a whole.

    Based on the feedback I’m gotten from some new tutors I know I definitely improved a lot in 2019, and I’m hoping by the end of this year I can get to the point where I can just plainly tell people I “know” Spanish without having to add any qualifiers to the statement. We’ll see!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear you’re progressing along as well, and I hope you feel confident removing those qualifiers by year’s end! I’m not feeling terribly confident about getting that far along myself, though I think that sense is largely shaped by how insecure I feel with speaking, so maybe I’ll change my tune on that.

      I like the idea of recording verbal journals and going back through them myself, that seems like a good way to practice with low pressure stakes, but have the ability to self-analyze afterwards. I might have to try that at some point, it sounds like a useful way to break down some of that anxiety. Not all of it, I don’t imagine, because a lot of it is wrapped up in the “other people” part, so that’ll be a wall to knock down at some point. I’m not in a huge rush, though, because I think with enough early prep, it’ll be easy to knock down.

      I read a case study recently about a man raised in France whose parents both spoke Italian and made him feel self-conscious as a child because when he tried to speak with them they said he had a French accent, so he never “learned” Italian as a child…except he listened to his parents and French relatives speak it and understood what they were saying, even before they provided translations. Then when he found himself in a spot of Italy with nobody around who spoke French, he went from thinking he couldn’t speak Italian at all to comfortably fluent in the space of three days. Obviously he had been “studying” Italian for a couple decades compared to my couple years with Spanish, but case studies like that really help underline to me how much of an afterthought working on speaking can be. But, at the same time, I also know it’s my hangup, and until I push through it I’ll ALWAYS be relegated to this “intermediate” stage, because it doesn’t matter how advanced at reading and listening you are, any level plus no talking experience equals intermediate.


  2. My own experience with speaking has been mixed. I had this goal that once I was finished reading 10k pages in Spanish I would be ready to do an output challenge. So, for the last 3 weeks, I’ve been talking daily to different tutors on iTalki. I ended up speaking with Venezuelans, an Argentinian, a Peruvian, Mexicans, a Colombian, and to cap off the experiment I have a lesson with a Costa Rican tomorrow.

    I’ve been a little underwhelmed by the results. On the one hand, I’ve gotten to “test” my Spanish by speaking to people from different countries and seeing whether I can understand them and be understood. On the other hand, most of the problems I’ve run into while speaking I don’t think a tutor can really help me with—it’s things like lacking vocabulary, or forgetting to use the subjunctive, or not being sure whether to use fue or era. Sure, I can ask, but those kind of mistakes tell me that I still need to develop my “ear” for the language with more input so I can internalize the grammar. A one-time correction just isn’t going to cut it.

    I’m looking forward to hearing about how your experiences with live conversation goes. I think it’s definitely stressful to talk to someone for the first time in a different language, but if you can find a tutor or two that you click with then you might end up looking forward to your “lessons.” I have two tutors that I’ve spoken to regularly over the last year and at this point, it’s like talking to buddies. We just kind of shoot the shit and every once in awhile they answer a question or point out a mistake.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure you’re right that after finding a conversation partner or two that I click with, there won’t be the same sort of stress with talking to them, and it’ll loosen me up to just talk freely, which will them make it easier for me to talk freely spontaneously with new people. In a lot of ways I’m totally aware that the speaking with people thing is mostly a bandaid that needs to be pulled off, and then I’ll be fine, but then again, pulling off the bandaid will hurt, so I still don’t wanna. 😀

      It makes sense that talking practice isn’t the best at addressing problems, but it would seem to be a good way of identifying those problems in the first place. I do think that a lot of things like the subjunctive mood are pretty hard to practice in a meaningful way, since it seems like the only way you really figure out those rules is by absorbing them through exposure, and subjunctive specifically doesn’t come up super often—at least as pure subjunctive compared to, like, imperative commands—so specifically focusing on it isn’t even that useful because you don’t get to put it into practice enough to solidify the studying anyway. It is at least good to have a sense of direction on where you need to go and what you need to work on. A lot of the time I feel like I’m spinning wheels with what I’m doing, since I’m not focused on anything specifically beyond “finish this book I’m reading,” or “watch this guy get murdered by metroids over and over again because it’s hilarious.” Neither of which are problems necessarily, but it does feel unfocused sometimes.


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