Priorities for the New Year

As I’m writing this I am floating in the space between Christmas and New Year’s Day, caught between finishing off the efforts of last year, and preparing to launch my plans for next year. Of course it isn’t nearly so neat as that. As you’re reading this, you’ll definitely already be in the new year since I’m scheduling it to go live on January first. Some of this year’s (2022) efforts will slop over into next year (2023), and for the efforts I want to launch, some of them aren’t ready yet. So I’m at a pause.

In this pause, I’m thinking about what I wrote when I started my new notebook in December. I want to pay attention to the life I had in 2022 and to make conscious decisions about what I carry forward with me into 2023. In 2022 I had a long-ish list of goals I was reaching for, not because I expected to grasp them all, but because the act of reaching would help my capabilities expand in the same way that in yoga practice you reach for your toes even if you can’t touch them. Then suddenly one day, you CAN touch your toes because over time reaching changes our capabilities. I reached for a lot of things this past year. I grasped very few of them, but I am much larger inside and more confident than I before. I’ve grown. However, the fact that I grasped so few of the goals tells me that the goals were misaligned with my priorities and I was reaching for too many things all at once. Also I spent large portions of this year feeling over-stretched. I must re-align my efforts and pick a few things instead of so many.

Last December I planned to write 12 short stories in 2022. There was no way for me to know that I would pick up piles of freelance work starting in April. I could make similar statements about many of the goals, there is simply no way for current end-of-December me to know what the me of next July will have to juggle. Instead of creating a list of goals I am likely to abandon, I shall pick some guiding priorities and trust the me of next July to set her own goals around those priorities. It has taken me several weeks of thinking, but my priorities have come into focus. Each priority comes with its own story.

Pay down debt and stabilize finances. I remember being a teenager in California during an earthquake, laying under my kitchen table in full body contact with the floor while the single story house with only a crawlspace between in and the earth moved underneath me. In that moment I had to re-evaluate my understanding of stability. The pandemic was like that.  The givens of our lives were thrown into question and we are all still riding out the economic, social, and emotional waves. There are still ripples that make our footing unsteady. My family had two added layers of destabilization. In 2020, while we were all still in the mask-and-isolation-we-have-no-vaccines stage of the pandemic, the twenty-year Schock Mercenary story arc came to an end. Thus ended the daily comic which was our primary source of income.  Disability is the third axis of movement that staggers me. Howard is disabled with a chronic fatigue form of Long Covid that impacts his ability to work. We’ve had to recalibrate all of our life patterns to accommodate for the disability all while trying to establish an income stream based on something new before the Schlock Mercenary income dwindles away completely. At no point have we been unable to pay bills, but sometimes we’ve had to increase our debt load to keep things covered. I can see in my private journals the amount of stress and thought that I’ve devoted to long-term financial worries. I want to spend less emotional and creative energy on financial contingency planning, which I can do if I pay down some debt and stabilize our income streams. The manifestation of this priority as I launch into 2023 is that we will run two more Schlock book Kickstarters next year. I’ll have to bend my life around that. I will also be continuing my work for Writer’s Cubed Incorporated because the steady freelancing paycheck will smooth out the lows between Kickstarters. There may also be other revenue generating activities. Some of them may team up with creative priorities.

Get more books onto the table. This goal is a bit nuanced to explain, because any time we set up a booth at a convention our tables are covered in books that I participated in creating. Every single book that Tayler Corporation has produced is my work. I am immensely proud of all of them from Schlock Mercenary collections to X-treme Dungeon Mastery, to Planet Mercenary RPG. Yet there is a different emotional resonance for the books where my vision, my creation, is the heart of the project. Right now the only two books on the table which fit this second category are Hold on to Your Horses and Strength of Wild Horses. The difference between these categories is nebulous, it isn’t work-for-hire vs work-for-passion, because I’ve been extremely passionate about many of my collaborative projects. Perhaps it is just that the creative works of my heart, the ones I feel called and compelled to do even though they cost money instead of earning it, have been forced to take up the space around the edges. Just like Hold on to Your Horses and Strength of Wild Horses get a corner of the table, an odd corner which makes people wonder why, in a convention booth full of space mercenary graphic novels and RPG books, there are two children’s picture books. I can’t help feeling that if more of my projects were put onto the table, if I took up more space with things based on my creative vision, the explanations would become easier. If we can expand to have Howard prose projects (Shafter’s Shifters, his new world that is percolating), shared projects (Schlock Mercenary, XDM2e), and Sandra projects (more picture books, my SLSC workbook, a middle grade novel) then it all feels more balanced. Whole.

I need to take up more space on the table. That starts with taking up more space in my daily life instead of relegating these heart projects to the scraps of time and attention that are left over once I’ve done all of the necessary work. I must remember that stories of my heart are also necessary.  And, yes, since my heart stories tend to be expenses instead of income, this priority may be in competition with the first one.

Go for more stupid walks. There is a meme with a picture of a bald eagle walking hunched over and looking rather grouchy. The caption says, “Going for my stupid little walk for my stupid mental and physical health.” That eagle is my vibe critter. In August my doctor informed me that I’m pre-diabetic, in January my calendar informs me that I’ll be 50 years old. I am healthy and energetic, but I have a giant list of things I want to do and I’ll only get to do them if I pay regular maintenance attention to my physical body. Mind and body are not separate, and time spent tending to my physical health will result in better mental health and more creative energy. So I’ll be going for more stupid walks, and I’ll be doing more yoga, and I’ll be thinking consciously about what I eat and how it affects my mood and body. This priority isn’t just about walking, even though I’m encapsulating the priority with “go for more stupid walks.”

Strengthen core connections. This priority is about the anchors that keep me stable when life becomes storm tossed. It is the family and friend relationships which save me when I’m drowning and where I drop everything else to rescue when called upon. It is the faith which connects me to deity and to my own inspiration, that clear voice which says “yes, this is your path.” It is the traditions and rituals personal, religious, secular, and public that help me remember who I am and what I hope to become. If I want to emerge from next year whole and more healed, then I need to put time into tending my core connections. I need to be reading books that help me think deeply about humanity and spirituality. I need to be scheduling time with people where we can do more than a quick summarization catch up. I need to go where I can find art and nature and the wind and the sky and blades of grass, all things which invite me to be present in the moment instead of always allowing my thoughts to gallop off into the future or memory.

That’s it. Four priorities. It feels good to state the priorities out loud, to feel how they resonate when I say them. (Even if I’m “saying” them in written text.) I could tell that they were the right ones because as I found each one, it clicked into place like it belonged. Obviously the exact expression of these priorities is going to shift and change from month to month. Sometimes they’ll be in conflict and I’ll have to choose between them, but most of the time I hope to have them working together. Being healthy in body contributing to my ability to pay down debt. Smaller debt giving me more space to work on heart projects. Publishing heart projects strengthening my core connections and voice. Having more books on the table helping to stabilize finances. The cross connections are multitude.

To support my priorities I need to put structure around them. One thing that I noticed as I was reviewing my year and assembling my annual book of blog entries, was my monthly practice of giving updates on all of my projects in process. Writing them out that way was hugely beneficial for a long time. It helped me see that even in a month where I felt like I accomplished nothing, I actually did progress on several fronts. It helped me quantify the work that I do and give it value and weight in my life.  However I also think that the shape of the update list was encouraging me to spread myself thin across dozens of projects. Rather like the vaudeville spinning plate act where I have to scurry from plate to plate keeping things in motion lest it all come crashing down. I want the new year to feel calmer instead of hurried and stretched. So I’m changing the way I think about and report on my projects. I’m going to pick a main focus and let the other plates rest neatly stacked in a cupboard until I’m ready to pick them up again.

In January my debt reduction focus will be fulfilling the Kickstarter for A Little Immortality with a side order of work for Writer’s Cubed Inc. My books on the table focus will be the Structuring Life to Support Creativity Workbook, since that project feels like it has the best chance of being a completed and publishable book before the summer convention season hits. My health focus will be pulling diet back on track, and getting moving more often. My core connection focus still feels nebulous. I have some books I want to read and I’m considering how to honor my 50th birthday.  Maybe I’ll pull blogging into the service of core connection. Or perhaps I’ll just try to put focus and attention onto the accomplishment of my other three priorities for the month.

So that is my plan for the new year 2023, but here I am writing this letter on December 27. I have a few days yet of the year 2022. Before launching into new efforts, I may steal these quiet few days and work on House in the Hollow, which is a project that even when draft complete still has years of revision and submission before it can land on the table. I want to write it anyway. So working on it is a gift to myself both past and future.

I don’t know how this liminal space between last year and next year finds you, whether you’re weary or hopeful. Just know that I’m wishing the best for you, that you can be heart-whole with enticing possibilities for the year to come.

All the best,

Sandra Tayler