Friday, January 13, 2012

v2, d431: 2011-in-reivew #2: 2011 In Review

I suppose I'd best get around to this before it's 2013.

Last year's year-in-review post was a lot easier to write than this year's for two reasons: 1) I was stuck at work until midnight with nothing else to do, and 2) I had a very strong feeling on the preceding year in that I had hated it and was so glad for it to be over I likened it to Roy Scheider blowing up the shark at the end of Jaws.  This year, I've got a baby trying to crawl up my leg half the time and it's been harder for me to find much of an emotional through-line to 2011.  Finally, I realized this was because the only constant in my year was MASSIVE CHANGE!!  The year started with Kim at home on bed rest.  From there, it was new baby, new plays published, quit job, lose friends, subsequent depression, more involved at church, new apartment, and, perhaps the biggest change of all, I got some new socks during our marathon Christmas adventure.  You can see, then, how it's been difficult to get a handle on exactly what 2011 was, because I feel like I'm still sorting out what life is now.

All right, let's start with the biggest change, because it got the ball rolling on all the others: in February, Kim and I welcomed Isaac Joseph into the world, and he has been a joy.  He is so good-natured that it is difficult to stay "down" when he's around (unless he's hungry or sleepy or in pain). And that's been an incredible blessing, because there have been some hard times since he's been born.  New babies are always difficult.  It's such an extreme shift between "I'm so happy, I love this new baby so much" to "I'M SO EXHAUSTED, I CAN'T DO THIS!" every week, sometimes every day.  It's disorienting, being a parent.  Obviously, though, it's been great overall, and I wouldn't go back on it ever.

It does, however, radically shift your priorities.  I was surprised how even going from Parent of One to Parent of Two requires a priority shift.  I'd thought I was stretched pretty thin, between being husband and father and holding down 1.5 jobs while maintaining something of a social life, but it turns out there was a whole new level of stretching we could reach.  I couldn't leave Kim and home with both boys as easily as when it was just Robbie, so I started heading out at nights less.  I didn't so much lose a ton of sleep, because I haven't slept well in years, BUT my late-night time shifted from being writing time to being rocking baby to sleep/doing dishes/being-exhausted-(but unable to sleep)-from-the-boys-and-the-dishes time.  In addition, the summer was fast approaching, which I knew would be my busiest season in my job at the church.  Finally came the straw that broke the camel's back: I was "cast" in the summer show at work.  And by "cast" I mean assigned one of the scene shift jobs, the other two of which had gone to unpaid apprentices.  I knew this basically meant I'd be leaving my family in the lurch and putting my church in a bad situation headed into our busiest season because I was supposed to change scenery for a place where I was constantly frustrated and ultimately unappreciated/abused while slowly losing money anyway.  For the first time in my life, it wasn't worth it anymore.

My decision to quit the theater was hard. It's still hard, though I'm convinced I made the right choice.  I wish I were still working in theatre every day.  I had made the best friends of my life there, and I knew I would see them only very rarely after I left.  I knew I was depriving myself of two of the most precious things in my life--my art and my friends--but it was time for me to go.  Now obviously, without the consistent income from that job and with nothing else to jump right into, we didn't have the money to keep both boys in day care, so I became a stay-at-home dad, keeping Isaac at home with me.  And those first few months were rough.

I trust you'll forgive me if I don't go into further detail on that point?

Eventually, I began to adjust to my new life.  After a while, I started to enjoy it, and that's where I am now.  I now keep Robbie and Isaac both on Tuesdays and Thursdays while keeping Isaac the rest of the week.  I still don't see my friends unless I go to their workplaces and visit them during work hours, but I'm adjusting to that as well.  That's just about the only way our schedules can line up.  The only time I really have free any more starts at about 9:30 or 10:00 at night, and most folks just can't stay up late anymore.  We're not in college, after all.  Well, life comes in phases, and that's what this phase looks like for me.  God is very good, and I am very blessed in my days at home, my time spent working for the church, and the few opportunities I do have to get out with friends, whether it be for a football game, a late movie, or Christmas Tree-zzas. 

As time went on, it became clear that we needed to cut costs further, so we moved.  To a bigger apartment, it turns out, in a comparable neighborhood, but a bit further out from, well, everything. (Except for the church and Robbie's day care, fortunately)  This has also made seeing friends more difficult.  It's been good, however. The move has been stressful.  We're still completely unpacked, and that's been stressful.  Because again, these two boys require a lot of energy and attention, and we've been distanced from our usual support system.  In all of this, I've been forced to really do battle with some of my own personal shortcoming, attitudes, weaknesses, and fears.  It's been uncomfortable.  But it's been good, and I hope I'm becoming a better man because of all of it.

And now we've reached the "conclusion."  What do you conclude from your world turning on its ear?  Well, in my case, from turning my own world on its ear, and my family's.  I guess what I've learned is that you really do have the power to do that.  I spent a lot of my life believing I was sort of a prisoner to circumstances, that you just can't change your situation.  And I learned this year that you totally can. You can always quit your job.  You can always move out of town.  Or you can do something less drastic: cancel your cable and Internet so you're forced to get out and meet strangers.  Become vegan.  Sell your car and walk/ride a bike wherever you go.  Those things are options.  They may not fix your problems, but they're there.  I heard a quote at a children's ministry conference I went to last October: Change happens when either you know enough to want to or you hurt enough to have to.  I think in this instance, the biggest change happened when I learned that maintaining my unhealthy status quo would no longer be unhealthy just to myself, but to everybody I cared about.  So in my case, the violent change was worth it.  In your case, it may not be worth the fallout to take the leap, whatever the leap may be.  But at least when you reckon that yes, it is an option to you, you really take stock of what is important in your life.  Yes, where I am is worth it.  I'm living this way because of (priorities) or because I'm reaching (goal).  And if there's nothing in those parentheses, well, what have I got to lose?  I'm moving to Montana! 

I've also learned that change is intentional. You have to stick with it.  Over two years ago now, I wrote a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month.  It was an incredible experience, it was something that I'd never done before, and I thought it would radically change me.  It hasn't.  I've been wanting to rewrite it for years now, and I haven't done it.  I met a goal, I didn't change myself.  I still want to become that guy who can write novels, but it's too easy to be exhausted after playing with the boys and instead watch TGWTG videos until I'm tired enough to go to bed.  2011 has taught me that I don't have to accept that from myself.  If I want to make that change, I can make it. But I have to follow through with it.  Change takes conscious action, not goal-setting.

So hopefully, 2012 sees me reclaim some of the things I want to be doing.  Toward the end of the year, Robbie will be starting school, Isaac may be back in day school, and the whole Change thing will start all over again.  Hopefully these experiences will prepare me for that time.  Only time, my own discipline, and the grace of God will tell. 

In the meantime, I think I hear the baby stirring in the next room.  Naptime is over.  Gotta go.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

v2, d430: 2011-in-review #1: The Reading List

Every year, I make a reading list.  This is usually reserved for people who read a LOT, but I read about as much as my two young children allow me to, and it's always fun to look back at the end of the year.  Plus, it gives me the opportunity to come up with a bunch of obscure statistics about page count, authors, genres, and whatever else I feel like dissecting.  And I'm always up for some obscure stats.

First, I'll list the graphic novels and comic collections I read this year.  I don't like to include these in my list, because in my opinion they skew the page count.  Which, admittedly, is an imperfect statistic anyway, since page and type size varies from book to book, but I like to think it all evens out in the end.  Now, a couple of the books I read as part of the Summer of YA Fiction, relied pretty heavily on illustrations, but as long as they still followed a more traditional narrative format, I included them with the traditional books anyway.  Like I said, it's not like there's an exact science to this. 

Also, you obviously won't see the dozens upon dozens of picture books I read with Robbie and Isaac over the course of the year, though there were two in particular that were actually tougher reading material than one or two of the SoYAF entries. 

Oh, and if you don't remember SoYAF, I made a deal with the kids in my AWANA class that I'd read whatever books they recommended for me over the summer if they'd agree to read a certain portion of the Bible.  Thus, I spent the summer with a lot of kids' books. 

All right, first, graphic novels and treasuries:

#1. Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar
#2. Batman: Hush by Jeph Loep and Jim Lee
#3. Superman Birthright by Mark Waid and Leilin Francis Yu
#4. Sgt. Piggy's Lonely Hearts Club Comic: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury by Stephan Pastis
#5. Runaways: Teenage Wasteland by Brian K. Vaughn
#6. Runaways: The Good Die Young by Brian K. Vaughn
#7. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan O'Malley*
#8. New Avengers #6: Revolution by Brian Michael Bendis


Next, the books that I started but did not finish.  I almost always finish reading what I start, BUT sometimes I just can't make it.   Here, then, are the unfinished, approximately how many pages I got into each, and why I dropped each book. 

The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God by Brent Curtis and John Eldridge (110 pages in) -- I really expected to like this book, but I felt like I was wading through pages and pages of pop culture examples just to get to a point.  The biggest annoyance, however, was the way they kept referencing Paradise Lost as if it were a primary source for the events that happened after the war in Heaven.  I just couldn't finish it. 
The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich (85 pages in) -- This book was pretty good, but I had just seen the movie a week before, so it was kind of boring reading the same thing all over again. 
Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets(120 or so pages in--hard to tell, I wasn't reading this one in order) -- I was re-reading this book, then a friend asked to borrow it, so I lent it to him instead of finishing it myself. 
The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub (350 pages in) -- I lost it. And for some reason, I wasn't really all that hooked on it, even 350 pages in, despite the fact that the last line I had read was, "And then all hell broke loose", so I didn't really search all that hard at first.  I've found it since, though, so I'll probably finish it in 2012. 

And now, my actual reading list of 2011!  Books with a * were part of the SoYAF.  Books with a ^ are re-reads.  Sorry I don't have start/finish dates.  I'm a statistics geek, not a record-keeping geek :-)

1. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien (304) ^
2. Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (468)
3. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (247) ^
4. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (352)
5. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller (254)
6. How to Run a Theater by Jim Volz (181)
7. The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle by Steven Pressfield (165)
8. The Pig Did It by Joseph Caldwell (195)
9. Wizard and Glass by Stephen King (698) ^
10. Winter's Bone  by Daniel Woodrell (224)
11. Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston (352)
12. The Dead Zone by Stephen King (426)
13. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (1007)
14. Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back On the Board by Bethany Hamilton with Sheryl Berk and Rick Bundschuh (213)
15. True Grit by Charles Portis (235)
16. The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan (681)
17. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (165)
18. The Rise and Fall of the Bible by Timothy Beal (225)
19. The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan (220)*
20. Dying to Meet You by Kate and M. Sarah Klise (156)*
21. Persuasion by Jane Austen (249)
21. Zamboni Rodeo: Chasing Hockey Dreams from Austin to Albuquerque  by Jason Cohen  (240) 
22. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (224) Third Edition (2007)*
23. The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (128) *
24. One False Note by Gordon Korman (160) *
25. Addie McCormick and the Chicago Surprise by Leanne Lucas (136) *
26. Savvy by Ingrid Law (352) *
27. The Cave of the Dark Wind: A Never Land Book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (176) *
28. Isle of Swords by Thomas Wayne Batson (344) *
29. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (377) *
30. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney (217) *
31. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (137) *
32. Slob by Ellen Potter (199) *
33. The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (279) *
34. Isle of Fire by Wayne Thomas Batson (338) *
35. The One Left Behind by Willo Davis Roberts (139) *
36. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle (203) *^
37. Way Down Deep by Ruth White (197) *
38. The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson (316) *
39. The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis (160)
40. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney (224)
41. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (505)
42. The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan (249)
43. Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (537)
44. Pirate Latitudes by Michael Chrichton (384)
45. Is Belief in God Good, Bad, or Irrelevant?: A Professor and a Punk Rocker Discuss Science, Religion, Naturalism, and Christianity by Preston Jones and Greg Claflin (165)
46. Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald (181)
47. Home by Marilynne Robinson (325)
48. Duma Key by Stephen King (611)
49. Remembering Christmas by Dan Walsh (264)
50. The Nine Lives of Christmas by Sheila Roberts (214)
51. A Lawman's Christmas by Linda Lael Miller (249)
52. The Shepherd, The Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry (128)
53. The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford (241) 

Total # of books read (completed) in 2012: 53
Total # including graphic novels and treasuries: 61
Total # of pages read (in completed books): 15,615
Average # of pages/book: 294.642
Total # of SoYAF books: 19
Average # of pages/book MINUS SoYAF: 332.853
Average # of pages/month: 1,301.25
Average # of pages/week: 300.288
Average # of pages/day: 42.781

 Compared to last year's totals:
Total # of books: +12 (53 to 41)
Total # of pages: +1,905 (15,615 to 13,710)
Average # of pages/book: -39.748 (294.642 to 334.390)
Average # of pages/book excl SoYAF: -1.538 (332.853 to 334.390)

I thought about breaking things down into # of books by men, # of books by women, pages per book by men/women, fiction vs. nonfiction, etc.  But I want to get through this, so I won't. ;-)

I'm not going to go into a ton of details as to why I liked/hated/recommend/was disappointed with the books below.  You can check out what I had to say when I finished each one on my other blog if you're really that curious.  Hoping to push my totals up again next year, but if I don't then I hope it's because I'm making valuable use of my leisure time to get some more writing done in 2012. 

Favorite reads of 2011:
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Still my favorite novel.  Just as awesome second time through)
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Don Miller (And I don't usually like Don Miller!)
Wizard and Glass by Stephen King (Another re-read, still chilling and exciting and passionate.  Um, forgot exactly how passionate...still, a great book.  R-rated)
Between A Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Rolston (for those of us who don't particularly want to see a guy cut off his own arm but are intrigued by it nonetheless)
The Rise and Fall of the Bible by Timothy Beal (Very thought-provoking examination of the Good Book's history.  Interestingly, I agreed with almost every point made, yet don't come to the same conclusions as the author)
Zamboni Rodeo by Jason Cohen (Hard to track down, but a MUST read for minor-league hockey fans everywhere. R-rated language)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (People don't believe me, but this book is hilarious.  Can't remember that last time I've laughed out loud so often while reading)
Savvy by Ingrid Law (Surprised by this one)
Isle of Swords by Wayne Thomas Batson (Surprisingly solid Christian YA pirate novel.  Sequel was pretty good, too)
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Better than the movie, but also just a really cool adventure story)
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (How have I never read this book before this year???)
A Wrinkle In Time by Madelien L'Engle (Smart, creative, fun, intelligent, classic.  Just a winner)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (SO GOOD!)
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (SO GOOD! FANTASY!)
Duma Key by Stephen King (Sure, it's a ghost story.  But it's a cool ghost story!)

Biggest Disappointments of 2011:
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (Nick Hornby and I just aren't going to get along, and that's okay)
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (Actually liked what it had to say, but took 100+ pages to say something he could have said in, oh, five pages)
The Pig Did It by Joseph Caldwell (The Pig did what?  Why is it so boring??)
The Dead Zone by Stephen King ("How 'bout a crooked pol-i-ti-cian? Hey stupid, that ain't news no moooore!") (Newsies reference)
The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilky (I...I have no words)
One False Note by Gordon Korman (Surprisingly weak addition to YA 39 Clues series)
The Cave of the Dark Wind by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (Lacks imagination.  Odd, for a Neverland tale)
Slob by Ellen Potter (Just...clearly not my cup of tea)
The One Left Behind by Willo Davis Roberts (A depressing story about a girl who loses her twin sister and then...wait, no, no, it's an adventure story about helping an orphaned boy escape from kidnappers? Huh?)
The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson (Eh, the pirates were better)
Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald (So unhelpful...)
Home by Marilynne Robinson (Just couldn't live up to everything I loved about Gilead)
Remembering Christmas by Dan Walsh (Twitch)
The Nine Lives of Christmas by Sheila Roberts (Christmas romantic comedy for single cat ladies. Clearly, I'm not the target demographic...but still!)
The Lawman's Christmas by Linda Lael Miller (You're trying to make me hate Christmas, aren't you?)

There you have it, folks!  (This took too long.  Next year, I'll reduce the last two lists to Top 7's or something)