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In which I review some of the key projects of the last year
As the end of the Gregorian year grows ever closer, I’ve been struggling to get anything revised enough to feel good about publishing it to my blog. I’m pretty tapped out due to a lot of personal upheaval, and so I’ve decided to give myself a break.
As my final post of 2021, I figured a casual wrap-up would be the way to go. It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything so…conversational in a blog. I hope it’s entertaining for ya’ll.
2021 was quite the year…
1. Revising Gendervexxed
One of my biggest goals this year was to pick a single manuscript and focus on revising it. I went for the last manuscript I finished in 2008, when I was 23 and my life was about to fall apart. It was a complete manuscript when I started revising, albeit a short one with flat characters and no plot to speak of, following the lives of four queer characters over one summer.
It is no longer a complete manuscript.
A lot has changed in queer and trans culture and in the larger societal understanding of sexual orientation and gender. I knew I wanted to keep it as a period piece, but there were some aspects of it that were so alarmingly not okay, that they had to go.2
Adjusting the narrative to still be true to the time3 without such intensely discriminatory language took a lot of heavy lifting in the first months. I thought I’d just be re-writing each chapter, but within weeks it was obvious I had to completely rewrite an entire character and her whole plot line.
I didn’t really start revising until May. By July, it was clear that I needed readers to help me with it, and so I recruited three folks to look over the first half of the book. Their input was crucial in the process, helping me maintain a semi-regular momentum as they were able to talk me through stuck points.4
In November I opted in for a rebel version of NaNoWriMo. Rather than a new novel and 50,000 words, I set my target to revise 30,000 words. The week NaNo started, I ran out of the original content from the manuscript and found myself writing first draft chapters for the second half of the book.
As of right now, even though I hit my 30,000 target in November, the book is no where near finished. I know where it will end, but getting it there is a lot of work.
Even though I didn’t reach my goal of having a fully revised manuscript by the end of the year, I’m not particularly bothered. The book is way better than when it started out. The characters have more depth. My readers are delighted by them. The story is stronger. There are more subplots and richness to the whole thing. I’m as excited as anyone to see how it turns out. And I trust I’ll get there.
2. Representation Matters Thangka pieces
After completing the first set of the Five Buddha families in non-male form, I knew I wanted to dive into another set, this time representing disability. My intention with the next series was to find models for each Buddha, as I feel it’s really important to move away from disability and disabled bodies as symbols, and recognize the lived reality and existence of disabled people.
I also decided to take the original series and create enlarged, colourful versions of them using a variety of materials.
Representation Matters series 2 stalled out pretty early on in the year. I have several folks who were definitely keen on posing, but our correspondence wained and eventually fizzled out. The ongoing pandemic is hard on a lot of folks. It’s particularly hard for disabled folks. As some people started talking about the pandemic in the past tense and relaxing their attitudes to going in public, wearing masks, and washing hands, those of us in the disability community have had to increase our vigilance as a result. Spoons are maxed out or dedicated to getting through the basics of the day-to-day.
This project is still there, still something I hold with intention, and it’s also something that will happen in crip time, which I’m totally okay with.
The colourful Thangka pieces, however, were not reliant on collaboration, and often proved to be just the thing for me to focus on when my own spoons were low. My aim was to complete them by the end of the year, and that may yet come to pass in the few remaining days we have left. If not, this too is not something I’m concerned about. Honestly, feeling a relaxed attitude to the deadlines and goals I set for myself is a huge revelation.
No, I haven’t completed these pieces yet, but I have put a lot of hours and deliberation into them. By being flexible on my timeline, I’ve been able to experiment more with the materials I’ve used. I’ve also been able to let the art guide me. None of this feels rushed and so none of it looks rushed. These pieces are beautiful, and I’m proud of the time I’m taking with them to ensure they are as I’ve imagined.
3. Blog Swap!
Switching away from Medium was not something I planned on when the year started. It came up as an option as more and more writers I admire began using SubStack. The decision to switch was informed by this, and my dear Dharma sibling Jenn, moving to the platform as well.
I did my research, plotted a timeline, and set to it. Some bits took longer than others, but in the end, the relaunch of all my writing in one place was pretty seemless and happened exactly when and how I wanted it to.
I like it.
I like that I can write a blog post like this one.
I like that I can categorize the many genres of writing I do.
I like that I’m discovering cartoonists and other writers.
4. The abandoned/paused projects
I started the year with an absolute fire under me about pulling together an anthology of disabled Buddhist writing. This was inspired by anthologies I read in 2020, like Transcending and Black & Buddhist (co-edited by one of my fellow chaplains!)
It was a strong start! I got a website up. I started networking. I started connecting with folks all over the world.
And then, in April/May, I had an intense incapacitating bout of anxiety for about seven days.
My system was telling me I was doing way too much. I looked at my schedule and yes, I had become over-committed. I’d let myself get pulled into projects that didn’t really interest me and were draining my already limited energy. I also found myself pulled into a conflict as a result of a misunderstanding that was impossible to resolve.
I reviewed my whole list of goals and projects. I moved back from a lot.
I put the anthology project on hold, pulling back from some related commitments I’d made that had come out of connecting with folks.
I abandoned making any book review videos. I didn’t have the energy to script them and couldn’t find captioning software decent enough (this was before IG released their captions).
I opted out of a year-long community building cohort I’d been participating in since January. That was the hardest. I was falling in love with folks in that space, but also, I had to acknowledge that I simply did not have the energy to be on video calls that much. Cultivating relationships is a lot of work. Doing it over video call is even harder.
Again, none of this feels like a failure. It would have, for sure, for my twenty-something self in a pre-pandemic world. My thirty-something post-pandemic self has a better sense of how self-care and community-care go hand in hand. If I continued with All the Things, I was risking my mental health. Risking my mental health means risking my wanting to be alive.
So I said no, extracted myself, and focused on what my heart/body/mind were telling me I needed.
And so finally, we come to…
5. The Bodhisattva Punk Rakusu Vest
My Unicorn got me a jean jacket. It fit sort of odd in the sleeves, so I cut them off and set to work turning it into a patch and pin covered vest. It started with a sketch on the back, a design incorporating the final line of the closing chant used at Upaya:
Let me respectfully remind you,
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost.
Let us awaken, awaken!
Do not squander your life.
I designed the text around the skull, imagining peonies blossoming around it. First, I painted the skull with acrylic. Initially, I figured I’d do the peonies in paint too, but then I thought: What if I embroidered5 them?
So I did.
Then I went online and found a bunch of queer and/or Indigenous artists to order patches from. I began stitching and ironing these on, playing with the layout, incorporating embroidery wherever an idea arose.
This unplanned project has given me such joy and ease and comfort. I will stitch for hours, listening to a podcast6 and just enjoying the process.
Working on it reminds me of how it felt to work on my rakusu in preparation for Jukai, only more so. It is a representation of my practice. Each element is about how I understand and integrate interdependence.
I don’t think it will ever be done because I will forever be an unfinished project.
So this is it. 2021 wrapped-up. There was more than this, but these are the highlights. The most important, significant, meaningful bits. I hope you’re able to take time to rest, to be with folks you love, and to get the nourishment you need.
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Commenting on, sharing, and liking my writing is also a fab way to support me and always greatly appreciated!
108 books! I did not set out to read so many. I started the year with the aim of 75 books, while feeling pretty convinced I’d be lucky to get that many read. I’m astounded that I was able to read so much and, as ever, my recommendations for 2022 will be themed around how important it is for us NOT to have some expectation of reading a lot or reading certain books.
The most interesting part of this process was seeing how much homophobia and transphobia I used to tolerate because it was so damn pervasive and normalized. It’s true, we still have so much work to do for a liberated and just future, but also, we have come far in just my life time.
I adjusted the timeline to the summer of 2009, for reasons of what was happening around affirmative surgery coverage for trans people in Alberta at that time. Fun fact, Alberta Health Services was one of the few to include coverage for transgender patients, until April 2009.
THANK YOU SOPHIA, LAUREN & NIC!!! Ya’ll are THE BEST!
Thanks to Shannon Downey for teaching me embroidery basics. Also, I got to meet Shannon in person this year, which was SUPER FUN!