Every year, I set out to learn a few things. But I also inevitably learn a bunch of stuff I didn’t anticipate, which is why I am grateful to be living the life I do. Here are the top ten from 2017:
1. How to type (better) in Hebrew
I enjoy using the educational app Duolingo both to learn German and keep my Hebrew from getting too rusty. Usually, I use it on my phone, where accessing another keyboard or “special” characters from other languages is one long-press away. But when my phone bricked this spring, I wound up using the browser interface on my PC for about a month.
I still don’t know the standard Hebrew keyboard anywhere near as well as QWERTY, and my touch-typing gets messed up by the fact that my brain tells me to press A instead of alef. But I don’t need to Google image search the key map anymore, and if I have to hunt-and-peck, it only takes me a couple tries instead of fifteen. I can use Hebrew swiping on my phone now too; before, it took me too long to find the next letter.
2. Bullet journals work way better for me than habit-tracking apps.
I’ve explained about my phone breaking, yadda yadda yadda, about a million times on this blog, including the above entry, so I won’t go into it again. But it did lead me to a key discovery of the year: bullet journals work way better for me than habit-tracking apps.
Habit-trackers aren’t usually very customisable; they’re designed to reward compliance, not flexibility. With my bullet journal, I don’t feel like I have to force myself to do something unhealthy (stay up too late… but only to finish my daily fruit-and-vegetable requirements despite not being hungry). And I can give myself more leeway: I don’t have to be in bed by midnight every night or go to the gym a strict number of times per week. I just choose to complete my strength training at least once by the end of the week and go to bed at times that let me wake up energized at a reasonable hour.
If I don’t meet my ideals, it’s OK — the bullet journal is a data set to keep me mindful in the moment and help me better navigate the future, not a record to determine whether I passed or failed. Sorry, Jerry Seinfeld, it turns out that “streaks” don’t motivate me to do anything but try to keep the streak by any means possible, instead of motivating me to do the thing I set up the streak to count.
3. How to read again.
When I was a kid, I used to read dozens of books a month. At the time, the public library’s limit was fifteen books per patron at once, and I usually maxed it out each week, wolfed down what I’d borrowed, and came back for more.
As an adult, I miss those days. I have too much to do to even think about taking out more than a few books at a time. I can’t get through them in the three weeks I have. I’m too busy with projects and work and writing. Sometimes when I’m depressed or exhausted, I can’t fathom the emotional energy it would take to pick up a story and get engaged with the characters.
But by using my e-reader, setting aside downtime for reading, and embracing the excellent digital short-story magazines I can save to my phone, I can make time to read. And that helps everything from my mental health to my own writing.
4. Clothes-shopping in the men’s section is great.
For the longest time, I’ve had a hang-up about needing to buy clothing explicitly made for women. Maybe it’s because I can remember adults asking so many times over the years, “Is this from the women’s section?”, eyeing whatever I was holding with just enough dubiousness to suggest it was okay if it was, but maybe not if it wasn’t.
Somewhere in the back of my head, I internalized that wearing anything from the men’s section was crossing the line: I could wear masculine clothing, but it had to be intended for ladies. Otherwise, I would be ugly and wrong. And, hey, a lot of clothing made for men doesn’t fit the way I want because, y’know, boobs and hips.
But, holy cow, so much men’s stuff does fit me. Some of it better than women’s stuff, because men’s clothiers expect me to have the tastes I have and broad shoulders and long legs and wide feet. (I’m never going back to narrow women’s shoes that give me athlete’s foot from squeezing my toes together!) There are pockets! And non-sheer fabric! And everything from hats to shoes is designed for comfort over aesthetics!
5. Office hours by appointment are the best.
Last school year, I experimented with a new format for office hours, and I don’t think I’m going back.
At my workplace, it’s expected that full-time instructors will set aside at least 5 hours a week (1 for every 3 hours of teaching) to meet with students. I used to schedule this as time in my physical, on-campus office. Students could drop by without an appointment. They usually didn’t. Most of the time, I could do some work while I waited, but I was less productive without my comfy home set-up and with the distractions of a shared office. Sometimes, I had nothing to do but clock-watch.
So, these past few semesters, I decided to try office hours by appointment only. Students could let me know in advance if they’d drop by my office hours, and I’d be physically in office only if someone indicated they wanted to meet me. There would be no penalty for no-shows, and I’d also be able to schedule video chat meetings for commuters.
It works way better for me, and it seems to work at least the same (if not also better) for students too. I can spend time on priorities and avoid wasting effort/food on packing lunches, and I can accommodate students who can’t make it to campus. Win-win!
6. How not to give up on revision
These days, when I think about revision, I re-write my memories of my past self: I was always able to tear up a scene by its roots and write a whole new one! Of course I could make a ton of big changes without breaking a sweat!
But that definitely wasn’t always true. Like my deeply lazy core self, I’d try to get away with as few changes as possible, stubbornly clinging to the old version of an MS instead of biting the bullet and scrapping months of work.
This year, I stamped that laziness back down and revised the same dang scene from scratch three or four times in a row until it turned out OK-ish. And I know committing to revision isn’t something I learned in a lightning flash just this year — it’s a skill I’ve been working on for most of my writing life. But this year showed me just how far I’ve come from delete-a-line-change-a-word-poof-it’s-done.
7. How to cook with pans that are not non-stick.
And why they’re awesome.
When I want to sear or deep-fry or sauté, non-stick just ain’t gonna cut it. I had no idea how much of a difference it would make… it’s almost like every single cooking article, video, and book was telling me to use cast-iron or stainless steel for a reason.
8. How to watch TV again.
I am the slowest TV-watcher ever. The only reason I’m up-to-date with Elementary is because I had to watch it the week it comes out before the public loses access to the video. But I very seldom sit down to just watch a story.
However, now that Netflix lets me download series I’ve always been meaning to watch — Naruto, comedy specials, all the Star Treks from TOS to Voyager — to my phone, I can catch up on my commute. It’s way easier to bumble through slow-paced shows early in the morning than to concentrate on the small print of whatever book I’m reading.
On the other hand, we now have cable thanks to our ISP giving it to us for free for a year, so maybe I’ll get more into being a couch potato? Meh, probably I’ll keep using it only for sports.
9. I am mildly allergic to bergamot.
Conversation with friends:
Me: I only steep the Earl Grey for a minute or two, because I don’t like really strong tea. I don’t mind the bitterness, but I really hate how itchy it tastes.
Them: … “Itchy”?
10. Heat up the pan, then add the cooking oil, then add the food.
So in the continuing adventures of “my impatience sometimes leads me to make poor cooking decisions,” I’ve learned from the aforementioned “every single cooking article, video, and book” to suck it up and wait. So my food actually gets a nice, caramel sear/crisp crust/all the good parts of pan-cooked food.