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2021 Year in Review

There were good times and a lot of bad times and really weird times. Sometimes, the bad times led to good times! If I choose to look at it that way.

Winter (January – March)

My job search consumed me for this period, and starting to look for a place to rent (I started way too early – thinking I might leave my old spot early, and in the end, found our place about 6 weeks out). I made a system around how to find my next tech job, and I found a job (which I quit, we’ll get to that later).

I got the COVID-19 vaccine in March, at a FEMA site, and I took some unflattering pictures with the bizarre FEMA banner. Because in an emergency, you need to make sure people post selfies, right? There are probably good public health reasons to encourage that but it felt so bizarre.

Pam in front of FEMA backdrop

I was nervous to get the shot at first, but my policy was to take a shot if someone offered me one, and that happened. For a whole year, I was afraid all of the time that I would get sick, or make someone else sick, if I “messed up” following these very strict pandemic rules (don’t see anyone, ever, unless it’s for capitalism). That did a number on my brain, I think. I started getting headaches a couple times a week after the first shot, and lied about it when I got the second because I was so afraid I wouldn’t be allowed to get the second, and I needed to be free.

In other news, was in my first-ever gallery show, Unprecedented Times. I learned an “artist resume” is a thing and I still need to make one, now that I theoretically have more time to be a full-time artist. I also took a stand-up comedy course over Zoom which was fun, and I’d love to try stand-up when that can happen in-person again.

I quit Instagram, and throughout the year have continued divesting from social media. I deleted my history on Twitter and put LinkedIn on pause (in case I have some deep urge to return). I keep pondering “I should write more about this” on how I think quitting social media helps re-regulate my internal social systems on what I need and from whom do I need it. Maybe a zine??

Spring (April – June)

I took a few weeks off between jobs, which I used to visit my girlfriend’s family and take a train to Florida (with a little sleeper car! and my car rode a train!) and go to opening weekend of the Phillies to celebrate new jobs and vaccination with a friend. (The people in the photo are not us, but a really adorable group of bros sitting near us. Limited capacity stadium is my favorite stadium, and I’m so glad we went)

Phillies baseball stadium

I started the new job, and it immediately set off red flags and just continued to be not good and worse. I liked the people a lot, but boy it was a really bad fit for me, and did not match what I thought I was getting into.

I went to visit my family in Kentucky for the first time in over a year, because we’d been avoiding a visit because of covid. It was weird for about 5 seconds (“do we … hug?”) and then was great. We did a bunch of things since the weather was nice, including visiting the light up animals at the zoo:

light-up dinosaur

When I got back from Kentucky was when my headaches got really really bad. Using any screens for any amount of time would trigger pain from light sensitivity. I tried to work through it, but eventually it was so so bad that I told my then-manager about it. They said “take the time you need!” but the unspoken expectation felt like I was supposed to be over it … but even after I took some time away, or taking some time, screens were still a trigger. Using them at all would make the pain worse, and I already had the pain all the time.

A bright spot in June was producing the one in person event I got to all year, a Keepers alumni gathering, outdoors in the park because everything else is complicated (Philadelphia largely re-opened mid-June, rules-wise, but … everything is complicated):

Summer (July – September)

I took a few days off in July to visit a friend, and that’s when I realized I had to quit my job and not work with computers for a while, if ever again. My girlfriend and I were moving so she pleaded with me to not quit my job and move at the same time, so I waited until we had finished putting the boxes from one place to another, and until I’d finished my current set of work at the job, and then I quit.

I still wonder if I should (probably) have gone on disability leave, but it sounded complicated (and I was already living with pain, all the time, so I had no bandwidth). It also felt fairly clear that I wasn’t doing a bad enough job to be fired, unfortunately.

A few things started to come together right around quitting though: I’d responded to a job ad looking for dance instructors, and I decided to go give it a try. I started training in the summer.

I walked by a garden in my new neighborhood and chatted with the people inside. Turns out it’s a community project, and I asked if I could volunteer. I’m now part of “the garden crew” and was doing that twice a week (and once per week as it got colder, until the winter break). And someone contacted me to ask if I’d like to perform livecode at “The Ghostly Circus” …

And in August I played at the Ghostly Circus, which was my biggest event ever that I’ve played. It was held at an old fort (a very popular venue in covid-times) and I set up in this cool weird cave-like thing to play (the LED art next to me is by my friend Ross) between/around aerial and circus performances happening outside:

Playing livecode has been difficult the last few months because of my issues with screens. I’m doing better now, and can play with computers again, but I hope to make more music that I can play live sans-screens so I’m not cornered away from performing. Performing felt SO GOOD.

Also in August, the land border to Canada opened up, so my girlfriend and I drove to Toronto to visit friends. It was cool to go on the trip, but I was really trying to make things work while being in pain and it was just tough.

In September, I went to visit my family again, because I wasn’t sure we’d make it in the winter because pandemic. Plus now I think visiting 3x a year is my preferred.

Fall (October – December)

I took a couple trips by myself in October, because yay solo travel. I went to a bed and breakfast/farm not far from Philly, and to visit my friend in New York. I also started teaching at the dance studio, with actual students. I really enjoy it. Most of my students are wedding couples learning before their wedding and it’s just extremely cute and endearing.

I published the essay I wrote up to share what had been going on with me, and my lovely friend Sue edited it because she is amazing. The title is a reference to the Fiona Apple album that came out in 2020 that I still listen to fairly often. Writing the essay felt very helpful as far as my journey in “wtf is happening”.

Speaking of writing, I did The Artist’s Way again (third time through I think?) and this time I wanted to have a cluster of people and … it was me and one friend lol. But we did it! And it was indeed really nice to do it with another person.

In November we did our last camping trip of the year and it was hella cold but I needed to go camping. Throughout the year, my girlfriend and I have gone camping a few times, and general outdoorsing is something I really should be doing on a weekly basis. For this trip, I used HipCamp (shameless referral link) and stayed at this mildly bizarre farm not far from Philadelphia.

cows

I performed in a couple dance numbers in the dance studio’s showcase, and the time leading up to showcase was a bit hectic. It went so well though! And for Thanksgiving, we celebrated with my girlfriend’s family, markedly different from 2020.

In December the pandemic started closing in again. I had multiple cases of someone getting COVID who I’ve interacted with so I’ve had to test often. And in the continued medical mystery of what’s been going on with the pain (why won’t the headaches go away?) a doctor referred me to the ER where …

They didn’t find anything.

Which was good news (or really, “kinda”), as it meant the remaining pain I had was probably … in my feelings. On this topic, I recommend the Science Vs podcast episode on chronic pain, and browsing the TMS wiki.

After getting the news from the ER, I applied some meditation techniques I’ve learned from those previous links, and I’m now living pain-free. It feels like I can finally … enjoy these large swaths of unstructured time I have, or at least I can spend them writing, or frittering around, or doing whatever other than having to lay in the dark in pain.

Further thoughts

I spent about half this year being in constant pain, and that was really terrible! I felt ignored or not-listened-to when I talked to doctors; sometimes things that did help would help to a point, but then were like “that’s all I got” (chiropractic). It was a terrible struggle and trying to navigate it all during the pandemic surely did not help, and probably contributed to it lasting as long as it did.

I’ve also been confronting me as a workaholic, as I saw myself start workaholic-ing in a new and totally different field (dance) when … why. This is still a struggle, as it feels like workaholism is “the water we swim in”. It’s always “okay” to dive into work, or talk about work or focus on work … but … I’m working (ehh??) on breaking out of this.

I suppose I’ll be pondering that for 2022, a year where I have no idea what the heck is going to happen. Will the pandemic “end”? (can it end? will it ever?) What’s work like? Will I art? Will I music? I don’t know, probably. Maybe. No idea. I made a Patreon yesterday as a lark for the art-centered life (but then how does that relate to “work”? ahhh)

Three days ago I wrote down “vibrant” as something I want for my life (as in “a vibrant life”), and made a sigil and burned it. Part of me is worried that I messed up magic but also … what if it happens?

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