The Year Ahead

I’ve seen a lot of people sharing their words of the year for 2017 lately. I’ve seen “focus” and “courage” most recently; both of which are great choices. Neither are what I would pick for myself though. I don’t want to steal those words from the people who chose them, nor do I think they quite fit for me. And that’s okay.

It took a long time for me to decide on my goals for the year, and I think, after writing and considering them, I’ve finally come up with something in terms of a theme. But that’s for later.

For now, here are my goals.

Run farther, faster, smarter.

2016 saw me get back into running…again. (For a while, my enthusiasm for it has ebbed and flowed. I think it’s here to stay this time.)

What I love about running and what continues to bring me back to it is that it really helps clear my mind, it helps my ever-fluctuating weight, and there’s nothing like some quality delayed-onset muscle soreness after a good workout. Not the kind that hurts forever, but the kind that reminds me that I did something good.

I want to run a live 10K this year, the equivalent of a 6.2 mile race, and some 5Ks while I’m at it. I’ve always loved a good 5K run.

I want to run the Navy 5 Miler again, and while I didn’t get into the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, there’s always next year for that.

2016 saw some great PRs for me on the running front–from my fastest (and of course my first) five miler to my fastest single mile ever. Even when I was running nearly every day in high school, I’d never had a mile under 15 minutes. (I’ve always been heavy and slower than molasses in January.)

In fact, just on Sunday, I nearly broke 13 minutes after having to take three weeks off because I caught what felt like the plague. My fastest mile is still at about 13:36, but this year, I hope to maybe break 11 minutes. There are plenty of weeks ahead to do it.

The smarter piece is important too. Take my rest days seriously. Take my nutrition seriously. Count my miles and run my routes intelligently. (Don’t go out too late, wear reflective clothing if I do, stay where it’s well lit. Wear warm clothing when it’s cold. Use my live-tracking. The simple safety things.)

There are plenty of races around me and to run–and even though my New Year’s Day run was not fun (headphone issues and my base had been completely wrecked by my three-week hiatus), there is plenty of time left in the year for good runs, smart runs, far runs.

Write better, longer, more.

Admittedly, I’ve fallen into quite a writing slump. I hadn’t been writing on this blog as much as I liked to and I have plenty of ideas just waiting around to be written. Kind of like puppies waiting to be taken into good homes. (It’s an odd comparison, but it works in my brain.) And even in terms of my work products, it’s hard for me to say that I’ve been completely happy with what I’ve been publishing.

My hope for the next year is to continue to improve my writing. I want to expand my vocabulary (which I started working on in 2016 with the creation and use of my word wall–something I’ll probably write about sometime soon!) and vary my sentence structure. While maintaining my distinctive voice. That’s something that’s more important in the things I write for work, but it’s something I truly value.

When I write, I tend to lean toward short pieces, between three to four hundred words. Which are fine and good. But, there’s much more that could be said about so much. And yet, I find myself just writing to get to the end, not writing to really describe. This year, I want to write more. For work and for fun. On this blog, in my novel(s), in my newsletter. Everywhere. (One of my not-included-in-this-blog goals is to open my first novel up to some beta readers. That may come next quarter. Stay tuned.)

I’ve always loved writing. I will always love writing. And the more I do it, the better I feel.

Be stronger in faith, love, and hope.

I joined my church in April 2016. I fell in love with that church and my faith had been something I questioned for a long time through my younger years. But as an adult I’ve found it so very useful, especially when I’m feeling at my worst.

I am admittedly new to a lot of church things. I’m new to a lot of (read as: pretty much all of) the aspects of organized religion, but there are some things I love. I love the concept of “walking in love”–where we are all encouraged to give what we can to others, to show people the love that Christ has shown us. And I want to do so much more of that this year. My church makes it pretty easy to do all of that and my church as a whole is a great example of it. I could wax poetic about it forever.

I want to go to church more. I don’t go as often as I would like, but when I do go, it’s almost like something magical happens and I automatically feel so much different, so much better after I leave. It’s always a semblance of relief–a burden being removed. I love that feeling and I want to experience it much, much more often.

Be thankful for all good things: the big, the small, the in-between.

My planner for 2017, which I’m completely in love with, has a weird spot at the bottom of each left-hand page, the page designated for scheduling and the to-do list. (Both of these will be incredibly useful features.)

For a long time, I didn’t know what to do with it. It’s just about an inch tall–not nearly enough room for my large, bubbly handwriting to fit in an inspirational quotation. And too big to just keep blank.

And the more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be good to have a “gratitude space.” A place to write the things I’m thankful for that day. Some days there will be a lot, some days not so much. Sometimes big things, like being thankful for having a job or maybe getting the promotion I’ve been looking into for a couple months now. Sometimes it might only be the little things, like what I wrote down the other day: “clean slates, open roads, and running shoes.”

But the point is to be thankful for all of it. I’ve really been living on borrowed time for over four years now and it’s time to really appreciate it.

I think I’ve finally come up with a theme for the year. 

It’s been hard, just thinking about it. But, I think I’ve got something.

All of these things, all of these goals I have for myself, have to do something with existence. Whether it’s existence in a written space, existence on the road and sporting running shoes, existence in faith, and existence in gratitude. I know, at some point, they all may waiver. There could be an injury, writer’s block, loss of faith, or a rough patch of time. (God forbid all of these.)

One definition of a word that’s come to mind is: “the quality or fact of continuing to exist.” That word? Tenacity. One of the definitions of tenacious (the adjective form): “not readily relinquishing a position, principle, or course of action; determined.”

And I think that just about sums up where I want to be in 2017. Not giving up. Determined. Existent. Tenacious.

Yin and Yang

Two complimentary forces. Good and bad. Shadow and light. Yin and yang.

These are the things I think of when I think of everything that happened in 2016. (Of course, it feels like the dark side is perpetually winning and it’s driving me a bit bonkers at the moment, but…I digress.)

As I’ve struggled to put together a piece for work about well, my job’s own 2016 in review, my personal struggles and memories keep bubbling up and telling me that I need to let them out. And here we are. With the good and our bad, our shadows and our light, complimenting each other and fighting it out for the forefront on my mind.

As I’ve worked on the work project, I found my calendar from the first six months of the year. A full-sized planner. I archived it, of course, because I knew I’d need all my notes for my annual review. And the more I thumb through it, the more I see that it’s full of different things. The good and the bad. Both work and personal.

When I think about the year as a whole, I remember so many different bad things. I always remember bad things versus good things. A huge fight and falling out with my dad (that finally resolved this week). The loss of Kristi’s dad atop a list of so many of our heroes we also lost, including Carrie Fisher. The election and its results that changed so many things and caused me to question my career far more than I ever had before. I was unmedicated for a long time–the longest time since I had started them, and times had gotten scary. (I’ll write about this eventually, but not now.)

But there were also good things. I have to remember the good things. I have to hold onto the good things. 

As I thumb through that planner, I can quickly and easily see just a few of them.

February saw both my second Springsteen concert and my first trip to Florida. My mom got us *great* seats to see Bruce from a friend of hers. And, basically a week later, when Kristi went and ran her second half marathon at Disney World, she invited me to come along. I even got to go and meet Tinkerbell! And we took tequila shots with her dad, which is one of my favorite memories of him.

March saw Kristi and I get engaged. I’d bought the ring less than two hours before I asked her to marry me, with the help of a toddler-sized bright yellow raincoat. Thankfully, she said yes. (A week and a half later, we got our first bit of bad news. Two weeks after that, more bad news came. And more after that.)

April, Kristi and I celebrated her 25th birthday in Florida. Two trips in one year. I was baptized into the Methodist church which has seen me through so many dark, dreary days. I also went to a Jeopardy taping and held my very first training that I wrote and gave. It was terrifying, but I was so glad when it was done.

June saw us going to Awesome Con together, me working late nights, and running my first live race of the year, a 5K I ran with some coworkers and their friends.

July, Kristi and I saw Toby Keith and Disturbed in one weekend and ventured an extra twenty miles after one of the concerts just to get Waffle House. (They didn’t have chocolate chips that day. It was sad.) I went into the Pentagon for the second time ever and got to stand at the podium of the press briefing room, which was probably one of the coolest moments of my young career. We adopted our precious boy cat, Stripes.

August, I got a new apartment for my birthday where Kristi and I moved in together. My work colleagues from all over the country came into town and we celebrated my birthday at a big happy hour. My mom and brother came to stay with us in the new apartment, not long after we moved in–their first time coming down to visit since my mom first helped me move to DC in July 2014.

September, during a week of late nights and early mornings, I managed to squeak in a visit to Nationals Park to see my second Springsteen concert of the year. It rained but the show was fantastic. My first big stadium show. Labor Day weekend just two days later, Kristi met my dad, we saw Blink-182, and I took her to my hometown in New York. I ran my first five-miler and didn’t die.

October, Kristi and I got our engagement photos done, and my dad’s illness finally was nearly resolved. I made my last trip there for the year. (I try to go 3-4 times a year.)

November and December were hard. Harder than they should’ve been.

Obviously in November, the election happened. Kristi and I applied for and got our marriage license.

The election changed our plans, making us wonder and worry for the future of our legal marriage. But, we decided and we moved up our legal ceremony and we won’t let that dissuade us from having a big wedding in October 2017–as we originally wanted and planned.

I found myself running to each church service I could that week. Three different times I found myself in the pews, praying to God for hope, clarity, and grace.

Later, I ran my second five-miler and still didn’t die. I wrote another 50,000 word manuscript as I tried to drown out all the uncertainty in my mind. (It was far easier this year.)

December, Kristi and I hosted brunch for her friends in our apartment. Her mom came to visit for Christmas. We married on  December 27th and went to dinner afterward. Our New Year’s celebrations were small, we watched Netflix and cuddled with the cats, knowing that 2017 had lots in store for us.

There were so many horrid things about 2016 but going through and seeing all of the good things that happened makes it all worth it. 2017 will be better; it’ll still have its challenges, but I have faith it will be better too. There is shadow and light in everything, after all.

 

 

Writing Away

Novel writing. Something, long ago, I never in a million, zillion years thought i would ever do. But yet, in less than two weeks, I will embark on a mission to write a 50,000 word novel manuscript in one month…for the second time.

Last year I was fortunate enough (through a feat of incredible finger strength and dedication to getting a fancy t-shirt) to actually complete this challenge, with a novel manuscript that has for the last year been left largely unedited. (It desperately needs some revisions, but I’m actually pretty proud of the project.)

I learned a lot about myself and about my writing style during that wonderful month of November 2015. I gained some new words, some new writing software, some new friends, and a new technique for getting past writer’s block that I now swear by and use regularly. (Word sprints, anyone?!)

This year, instead of going back to last year’s project, I’m starting a new one. A brand new manuscript. A brand new idea.

I’m ecstatic about this one.

I was ecstatic about last year’s as well. Last year, I spent my month chronicling the characters of my commute to and from my office in first-person vignettes about all the weird things I saw, frustrations I felt, and daydreams I had.

At times I felt like I was writing more of a cathartic journal than a novel, but it was incredible. I learned so much about how I structure my sentences on any given day, how often I use a lot of varied adverbs (something I’ve been trying to quit doing for quite some time now…but have not yet succeeded at given how many instances of -ly appear in this blog post alone), and how stream-of-consciousness writing will always be one of my favorite activities.

Right now, I’m immersing myself in a lot of preparations. Outlines, character building, and my arch-nemesis: title drafting. There have been phrases, anecdotes, metaphors and similes abounding and I’ve been compiling them all, saving them for the days where the words will count and they’ll have their time in the spotlight.

I’m so excited. Truly.

I fell in love with writing again last November. And this November, I’m truly looking forward to writing away and continuing our torrid love affair.


Side Note: If you’d like to take the challenge of National Novel Writing Month, check out http://nanowrimo.org. There, you’ll find all the resources you need to get started. If you’d like to follow my novel’s progress, check out my author profile on the same site: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/jessstapf.

Being Human

Work projects. Deadlines. Family emergencies. Wedding planning. Moving. Performance goals. Individual development plans. Metrics. Doctor’s appointments. Finances.

All the things hanging over your head. Some days you’ve got a snorkel to keep from drowning in them; some days there’s a cork plugging it shut.

It’s an age-old conundrum: Do I choose my work or my family? Which comes first? And then, which makes you feel like less of an asshole? Do I continue to do my job? Do I continue to strive for the best that I can be in the office every day, as my family continues to go through the toughest stretch it’s faced in years? Or, do I leave the work behind for a bit? Do I say “enough is enough” and realize that my family comes first and take a spur-of-the-moment trip up to New York and leave the projects that have cost me sleep and peace of mind for weeks to sit for a few days?

For some, it’s an easy question. For others, it’s not so much so.

I have struggled with this question lately. I always thought I would know the answer when the time came to ask it. But right now it’s time and I don’t have a clue.

I want to do my job. I want to do the best that I can at work. I want to write and distract myself with work projects; it’s usually one of my best and favorite coping mechanisms. But not lately…

My family has faced many obstacles within the last six weeks or so. From my father-in-law’s unexpected passing in late March (and the subsequent two weeks of leave from work I took to be in Florida for services and other various things), my brother’s car accident, and now my father’s illness, it has truly not been easy to be away. I have tried to have the right answer. I have tried to have the answer that will keep everyone happy: the one that keeps me in the National Capital Region, and behind the keyboard at my desk.

But, my family needs me. They’re my family. Even if I really can’t do much other than offer an encouraging word, feed the dog, or just be good company in the car as my mother drives. I will be there. I will be able to see my family in person instead of behind a computer or phone screen. I will be able to give hugs and hold hands and pet the dog. Night after night since my brother’s accident I had stayed awake wondering what I could do for him, for my parents as they struggled. I wanted to be there so very badly, but my commitment to my job remained. I needed the money, I needed to finish projects, I needed to be in the office for one meeting or another… (That “being in the office” guilt is why I’m pretty bad at picking a set telework day!)

There were excuses everywhere. Literally everywhere. But, after a long conversation that knocked quite a bit of sense into my fool head, several poorly-timed tears, and a quickly purchased train ticket, I am on my way home. It always takes a few hours to get there but it’s always worth it.

The guilt over work will fade and my heart will be full of love from my family. Those feelings are all part of being human–and that’s okay.

Updates Galore!

So I’ve got quite a bit going on…

  • I’m moving apartments today! I’m only moving from NW to NE–a mile from where I am right now, but it’s very exciting (and hopefully the last time I have to move for quite some time…
  • I’m participating in Vlogmas! Remember back in August when I tried vlogging for the first time? Well I loved it–and so here I am doing another vlogging challenge… I’m going to try and make it a regular thing for when I don’t have the time to sit down and actively type away…
  • I’ve got a big surprise planned coming up in the next few weeks. I can’t say much about it publicly, but I’m really excited.
  • I’m on Postable! I love sending mail and so if you want to get a lovely card/letter from me at any point, feel free to toss your address on there 🙂

I think that covers just about everything… Hope all is well on the first of December! Can’t believe that it’s almost 2015 already…

By Heart

I’ve got a memory like a sponge sometimes. Not for some of the important things–like birthdays, appointments, or anniversaries. But for song titles and artists, for lyrics and movie quotations, and for miscellaneous facts that could only ever be useful during a round of Final Jeopardy or at random bar trivia.

One of the songs that I know all the words to that sticks out in my mind like a sore thumb (pardon the cliche) would have to be American Pie by Don McLean.

I grew up with this song. I remember sitting in my dad’s old Ford Ranger (that he’s had longer than I’ve been alive–and almost as long as he has been with my mother) as a child singing this along with the radio before it crapped out and didn’t get replaced for several years. I remember singing it on the way to beginner band practice in elementary school, after getting bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches with a side of either Yoo-Hoo (the best chocolate drink in the whole world) or Cranberry Apple Raspberry juice. (Dad and I would leave the leftovers of that juice in the bottle in a tree in the wintertime and make slushies that were better than anything else in the world.)

I never really understood the lyrics until I was much older–but it made me appreciate them all the more.

“And there, we were all in one place, a generation lost in space with no time left to start again.”

I felt that way after high school ended, after college ended, after my service term ended. Lost in space, no room to start over. And I found myself always turning back and singing those words, heading to the comfort of simpler times, happy memories, and all the love from my family I still remember every time I hear that song.

I always remember the story my mother tells when we talk about the song; how I composed my own lyrics to the chorus: “Bye bye, Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was TOO SMALL.” (Emphasis on the “too small” for reasons I don’t entirely know…or why I chose those words. I’m not even entirely sure I knew what a levee was at that point. I most certainly didn’t know what whiskey and rye were.)

But the beauty of this song is in that it has always stayed with me, it has always been a part of me, and will continue to be as long as I know all the words by heart.

This post was prompted by Daily Post from WordPress. Thank you!