My 2019 Annual Review
Better late than never.
Writing my annual review is one of the highlights of my year and I was looking forward to finally write and publish mine. However, my New Year started differently from what I expected as I was forced to deal with a health issue almost as challenging as my depressive episode in 2011. This meant postponing my writing and publishing of my annual review of 2019.
I feel very fortunate and grateful to be in a position where I am able to actually finish something to share with you today despite everything I’m going through right now.
Like I did the previous two years, I reviewed the three main areas of my life in 2019 (health, sustenance, and meaning) using these three questions:
- What went well this year?
- What didn’t go so well this year?
- What am I working toward?
I also answered a fourth question: What did I learn this year?
All these questions were from James Clear. I hope you find something useful in my personal journey in 2019.
# 1. What went well this year?
I was able to sustain an intermittent fasting regimen for the entire year and I have achieved results. I no longer eat breakfast, and I only eat by 11:00 AM. This freed my mornings from the drowsiness I usually get from a full stomach. It also gave me some extra time to do sustenance and creative work. I no longer have the feeling of overfeeding myself, but I don’t feel deprived as well. Fortunately, I was also able to lose some weight and other people started noticing.
My regimen is not yet ideal. I still want to push my first meal to 12:00 NN and eat only until 8:00 PM. In fact, I started at 10:00 AM then 10:30 AM, slowly so that my brain (and stomach) do not resist. This is something I learned from James Clear and his book Atomic Habits. I am after establishing the habit first. I’ll optimize later, which in this case involves moving my first meal to 12:00 NN and eventually cutting my servings or portions. This is, by far, my biggest health achievement this year, and I’m proud of it.
I continued working as a freelance editor this year. My earnings took a massive hit when a major source of book editing projects changed its business model and no longer brought consistent work. It’s one of the realities that freelancers have to face. Fortunately, I have prepared for times like these and have enough savings to support me for an entire year.
After receiving word from this source, I immediately started looking for alternative sources of projects. I found Michael LaRocca, a veteran freelance editor who wrote a book about how he started freelance editing. His advice was really helpful in my search for alternative sources of income as a freelance editor.
It didn’t take long before I found a new source of editing projects. With the help of three references, I went through the application process and was surprised to know that my editing skills were actually good enough to get me in! I’ve been editing for more than two years now but I still doubted my editing skills sometimes (if not most of the time). So, getting a place in this elite pool of freelance editors was a testament to the hard work I’ve put into editing.
The new source was actually more ideal than the previous because it offered shorter assignments with higher rates of return. Plus, it was very, very flexible, something I always need in my creative spontaneous life. I am very grateful for the three people who wrote letters of recommendation for me. Without them, I wouldn’t get in the pool.
As a creative, I use the Einstein/Day Job model. My art is my career. My work as a freelance editor is just there to pay the bills and support me financially as I do my art.
The biggest highlight of my year in this area is expanding and maintaining a creative routine in the morning.
I work in the afternoons, sometimes, extending my working hours up until the evenings when I have a deadline. I don’t have weekends as I also work during those days. Because my mornings are free and my mind is usually sharp due to intermittent fasting, I use my mornings to explore my various artistic pursuits and creative interests. I’ll be writing more about my current morning routine in a future post but, for now, I’ll mention that my morning creative routine usually involves the following:
- Reading at least two poems
- Reading all the entries for that day in Thoreau’s journal
- Reading a page, a section, or an entire chapter of a book
- Writing in my diary for at least five minutes
- Translating one chapter of the Tao Te Ching to Pangasinan
- Doing one drawing exercise (I’m exploring Lynda Barry’s exercises but also draw my own poetry comics.
Sometimes, if I still have time, I would post an article on the blog and send it to my newsletter subscribers.
Starting and maintaining this routine was easy because I already have a morning routine established, which means I just have to stack each creative activity over another.
I think it’s also worth mentioning here that I was granted a fellowship at the University of the Philippines Institute of Creative Writing’s (UP ICW) Saling Panitik: Ikalawang Bienvenido Lumbera Seminar-Palihan sa Pagsasalin, a seminar-workshop in translation. This was one of the highlights of my creative journey this year and the experience and learning were really amazing.
# 2. What didn’t go well this year?
My biggest setback in 2019 was getting an ear infection in September. It only affected my left ear so one of the doctors I later consulted said that I may have injured my eardrum with a cotton bud when I was cleaning my ear. I clean my ear every evening after I take a shower and I do insert the cotton bud until the ear drum so I may definitely have done this. I know now that this was very dangerous and very wrong. It’s probably one of the littlest things I did, which I will forever regret. I could’ve spared myself a lot of pain, frustration, and money if I only knew this. Why didn’t my teachers and parents tell me about this?
I failed (or maybe the doctors too?) in managing the infection and it returned; this time, it was really bad that my doctor had to prescribe a really potent ear drop antibiotic, which was a little painful when applied. The infection was finally cured by December (almost four months of an ear infection!), but it left me with a large hole in my eardrum; so large that it was almost only the sidelining left.
I should probably be grateful that the infection did not destroy any nerve or bones in the ear. Nevertheless, the experience was still really bad and it was my first experience of having hearing loss. My hearing test (audiometry) revealed that while my inner ear was still strong and unaffected, I suffered mild to moderate hearing loss on my left ear. Communication became a little bit difficult in the following months. The biggest setback from all these, however, was:
- being told that my eardrum won’t be able to close itself and
- developing tinnitus, a constant ringing in my left ear.
The first problem caused me a lot of anxiety. The surgery required to close my perforated eardrum (tympanoplasty) will cost me Php 90,000. While some opt not to get their eardrum surgically closed, this puts them into the risk of recurring ear infections, which could lead to other worse ear problems. I am currently working with a new doctor who suggested (finally) to take an observation period to assess whether or not my eardrum could still fix itself. My eardrum healing itself will really be ideal.
The second problem caused by my ear infection and a perforated eardrum was developing tinnitus, a constant 24/7 high-pitched sound in my left ear. This is currently my biggest life challenge and I’ll be writing a separate post about it in the near future.
My earnings as a freelance editor declined in the early second half of 2019. I continued to write podcast show notes to cover the deficit, but it wasn’t enough. The book editing company that used to send me book editing assignments changed its business model and it no longer offered a la carte book editing, which meant that this source of income was completely lost. Luckily, I have an emergency fund in place, which helped me go through down months, and by November, I was able to find a new source of consistent editing projects, which was more ideal than the one I lost.
When I wrote my Annual Review last year, I mentioned that I wanted to travel more in 2019. I wanted to go on a solo adventure and maybe travel like I used to do. I failed terribly in this intention. I haven’t gone on any solo trip since 2018, and I only had a few trips this year: one in Laguna and another in Cebu.
I’m slowly getting comfortable with the reality that I’m probably more of an indoor rather than an outdoor person. There are so many things I want to read, write, and think about inside my head that the only regular outdoor activity I am able to sustain is my afternoon bike ride and walk, which fuel my indoor projects as well. Nevertheless, I will continue to set this intention of seeing the world more this year, especially Nature, and this is despite the fact that I am dealing with a health problem right now.
# 3. What am I working towards?
Health will be a big theme for me this year. It has already been a big theme for the first 19 days of 2020 and there are no signs of this being not the case. I am both scared and optimistic and will need all the support I can get as I go through another health challenge.
I have started improving my sleep in the past few days of 2020 and will continue to do so, with exercise aiding me in this goal. I find that when I sleep well the previous night, I am better able to deal with my tinnitus and react to it better. I also intend to strengthen my relationships with people and communities, which are so important when facing immense challenges. Specifically, I’m thinking about spending more time with my friends in Manila and Baguio as well as revisiting the HEAL farm this year.
My main intention this year in this area of my life is to get really, really good at editing. This means getting good at grammar and the ins and outs of the trade. Editing is my main source of income and it does not rob me of the energy I use in my personal creative projects, which involve a lot of writing. It’s only reasonable that I give it the attention it deserves and be the best editor I can be.
I intend to do a lot more drawing this year. Drawing is a passion I want to do a lot when I was a child. I learned to draw even before I started reading or writing. In grade school, I would admire classmates who were very good at drawing anime. I tried drawing anime myself and before long, some classmates would pay me to draw for them. Later, I created my own characters, bought composition notebooks, divided them in panels, and drew comics spontaneously. Sadly, none of those composition notebooks survived, although I can still remember some of the characters and scenes I drew back then.
As I grew up, I got deeper into writing and got out of touch with drawing. I did try cartooning for my high school newspaper and drawing illustrations for the Deaf when I was a pastor in college, but that was that. No animes, no elaborate stories, no comics.
By the end of 2019, I finally got the chance to relearn how to draw. My biggest motivator in this decision was Austin Kleon and my distant mentor is Lynda Barry, a Filipino-Norwegian artist whose philosophy of drawing aligns much with my general life philosophy—let go of the rules, just do it!
If you are curious to see some of my drawings, click here.
I intend to continue drawing in 2020 and mishmash this with the other crafts I’m exploring like storytelling, poetry, fantasy, etc.
# Bonus Question: What did I learn this year?
To end my annual review, I’m sharing with you five important lessons I learned in 2019.
“Health is essentially the same as life. The end of life is the end of health.” This is a quote from my favorite philosopher Steve Patterson. This is perhaps my biggest lesson in 2019. It’s actually the biggest lesson of my entire life since 2011! For some reason, I need to continuously relearn it. When life is really good, we get too hung up in tweaking things like productivity, income, even creativity, when none of that really matters if we’re sick or disabled. At the end of the day, health is the most important determinant of our overall happiness. If we could dedicate our time and attention to only one thing, it should be health. No questions asked.
Actions that are repeated and that turn into habits are the compound interest of life. This is a lesson I learned from Atomic Habits but it is a lesson I needed to apply to fully understand. In 2019, I dedicated a lot of time to my creative routines in the morning, afternoon, and evening. These routines led to a lot of poems, journal entries, and philosophical realizations. I consider these routines my biggest achievements in 2019.
Hearing is more important than we usually assume. Getting an ear infection and developing tinnitus has a very, very large impact on my current life. If I learned to value my hearing earlier, I could’ve prevented a lot of suffering I experienced in recent weeks. If you use cotton buds to clean your ears, stop! If you’re fond of loud music, stop! Protect your ears before it’s too late.
Drawing can be relearned. This is another lesson I need to learn by “doing”. I dreamt and theorized a lot about how I’ll go about relearning this lost passion of mine. But until I bought a nice pen and some twistable crayons and started drawing, I never really believed that I could draw again.
We’ll find love if we wait, we give it a chance, and we remember our own frailties. Since going through a breakup in 2018, I started building my life back to the point where I was confident to go back to dating again. After failing twice, I finally found someone with whom I have strong chemistry. We were both avid diarists, we love introspection, and we’re both interested in bettering ourselves. Despite this, we also came from very different backgrounds and possessed contrasting personality traits. I could say that I am currently at a place where I’m in a relationship with someone who is a source of encouragement during this tough time in my life and of inspiration to not stop dreaming and flourishing whatever the odds. I don’t think this would have been possible if I didn’t learn to wait for the right person, to practice compassion, and to develop the willingness to accept the frailties of others remembering that I myself have my own frailties.