In 1997, the song Bitch by Meredith Brooks came out and many women embraced it. You probably still remember dancing around to it, thinking, “Oh yeah, I’m hella edgy!” But how many of you read the book Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel, published in 1998?
Elizabeth Wurtzel died today, but I think her work went out with the 90s and that’s just as sad. When Prozac Nation came out, it was highly praised by readers and critics. How many non Gen-Xers have read that book, though? Or Bitch? If you haven’t read any of her work, I urge you check it out. Very little has changed since either book was released and I think they remain relevant today.
Bitch came at a time when I needed to read it. I’d spent the first 5 years of my adulthood apologizing for being the person I was and trying to be something different. But as 1998 came around and I was circling back to the things that mattered to me – instead of to someone else – Bitch was like a call to action.
In particular, I was re-embracing my Pagan beliefs. For a time, I’d set them aside to explore monotheism and found that none of it made sense. How could it, when everything about the Abrahamic religions is merely a retread of the Pagan beliefs that came long before? Why follow a copycat religion when I could look deeper and further back, when I could connect with humanity and nature instead of some abstract idea of divinity?
My ex-MIL did not take that well and she specifically informed my husband at the time that “The devil is in your (our) house.”
So Elizabeth Wurtzel’s book “praising difficult women” came when I needed it the most, when I needed someone to understand me and accept that, yes, I am a Witch and that’s not going to change. Most of us have the same need – to be understood, to feel accepted just the way we are, to be allowed to live and let live. Something in Bitch gave me that, as well as the strength to continue on my own path, not worrying about someone else’s judgments about me.
Fast-forward a few years into the future, when some officer whose name I don’t even remember informed my now-ex-husband that he could never vote for him to be president, because of my religion. Hey, random officer whose name I’ve forgotten? This is for you and everyone who thinks like you:
Blame the New Year, blame 2020, blame the eclipses, but here’s the truth: it’s not them, it’s me. And I realized I tried to do and be too much last year.
Late last year, I started getting headaches, something I don’t generally suffer from. I had more sleepless nights than ever, and I lost about 10 pounds because… Well, I don’t know why, but it happened and I know it’s not a good thing.
The first weekend of December, I went to Midwest Furfest with my husband and son. We’ve gone in previous years, but not the past couple because A. it was getting a little stale and B. renovations took priority. But this year I had a little bonus from doing some editing work on the side, so off to Chicago we went for MFF 2019 and I am so glad we did. We chilled. We laughed. We raved. It was fantastic and it was eye-opening.
What I realized that first weekend in December was that there were things I didn’t miss back home. Things I was doing because I did have an interest at first, only to find out they brought on more stress than satisfaction.
Maybe some people are stubborn and will push through that, but not me. It took another month to realize my body was telling me something: to stop, fall back on what I truly care about, and let the other stuff go.
I want to spend time with my family and my birds, get back to writing (which has been going slower than I want), focus on genealogy again, spend more time gaming (we’re going weekly with D&D), go out with friends for coffee, and have the freedom to sit down and watch TV at the end of the day. I’ve actually been pining to watch Turn since I saw the first episode, but every weekend I think I’m going to get back to it, something happens.
The entire month of December was full of highs and lows, which is pretty normal. However, the lows of 2019 were some of the worst. I’m burned out on the things I’ve tried, from socializing at the Mom Prom to being a Girl Scout co-leader. They’re all great things and I’m glad they exist, but they aren’t my things.
This sense of burn out has been acute since October, when I lost someone who meant a lot to me. It hit hard and there are times the grief still makes me feel incredibly alone in social situations. But that compelled me to drop the things in my life that don’t do me any good or stress me out, and spend more time smelling the roses (so to speak… it is winter, after all). So I’m in the midst of releasing physical things, commitments, and other things that literally cause headaches.
Last year, I found a job outside the home that I love, and am back to working in a law office, like I did for the first 15 years of my adulthood. I’ve committed myself to writing fewer books per year, but that’s still a priority because I love doing it. And, of course, I’m as passionate as ever about genealogy. I want to get more into the family history aspect of it, and I still get so much satisfaction and energy from teaching writing and genealogy classes at the local community college!
This year, I also want to make more time for doing what I want to do. Like taking an impromptu trip to Carhenge. Or spending a day cross-stitching with my daughter. Or finally visiting an archive in Nova Scotia.
The thing is, we’re in a place that isn’t permanent for us. I don’t just mean Nebraska, but life. So we ought to live our lives, our way. Yannowhadimean? Yeah, you do.
In January of 2019, I put out the declaration that 2019 would be the year I found Great-Great Grandma Emma. After 26 years of searching for her place of birth without luck, that was a pretty bold thing to say. Especially since I did everything wrong in 2019. Here’s what we can all learn from my mistakes:
Set a Specific Goal
“Finding” my great-great grandmother meant, to me, answering… um, about a bajillion unanswered questions. While it mostly came down to wanting to know where she was born, I wasn’t specific about that. “Finding” someone is hardly a goal in genealogy, because we’re always seeking someone or something, a fact, a story, proof, looking to fill in gaps in someone’s life… It’s a lot to do and take in, so having a well-articulated goal can help you focus your efforts. Um, something else I didn’t do.
Focus Your Efforts
If you have a specific goal or objective, it’s so much easier to focus your efforts. Otherwise, we might approach our research in a haphazard manner and waste time and energy. That specific goal will allow you to narrow your focus to the places you need to look – certain cities or towns, repositories, and more. How are you going to keep track of all of that, though?
Have a Plan
I didn’t have a plan for Emma. Beyond my bold statement to anyone who happened to read it, I was operating on sheer stubbornness. That can be fun for a little while, but it’s not productive in the long run. A plan based on your goal will go so much further.
Where have you looked? Where do you think you should look next? What records have you obtained? Which records are still out there? Whether you’re a spreadsheet person, listmaker, or plan in some other way, do craft something that allows you to make notes or check off a task. Finally, make sure you’re sticking to the plan with some accountability.
Track Your Efforts
Accountability doesn’t have to be public, such as with blogging or social media posts. Though that can be fun and add an extra layer of motivation, the real accountability should be to yourself. The beauty of having a plan is that you can also add a tracker to check off the things you accomplish, make notes on what you found or didn’t find, and keep track of the dates of research, repositories visited or databases searched, and more.
Don’t do what I did with my great-great grandma, which was basically throwing something at the wall and seeing if it stuck. That’s not the most logical or efficient way to get things done. Did it work? Heck yeah, it did! On December 4, a little discovery based on a suggestion from a NEHGS Research Consultation led to me cracking the case wide open on December 13, 2019! Somehow, I did it. I met my unspecific, unfocused, unplanned goal with a couple weeks to spare before the end of the year.
Would I suggest the same route for you or myself again? Maybe, if you’re feeling adventurous. 😉 So much in family history research seems to come down to timing and/or serendipity, anyway. But I’d like to think that we can help those things along with a little smart productivity.
I have never been “a New Year’s Eve person.” Our normal thing was to stay up until midnight – if possible – and play Vigilante 8 on the Nintendo 64. It just sort of became our thing. Other than that, I’d get all worked up about writing out goals. Resolutions, rarely, but goals, always. That was enough for me, because I’m more of an action-oriented person than a “let’s celebrate the change of the Gregorian calendar!” sort of gal.
To me, the celebration was in making an action plan for productivity. Super exciting, I know. This year, I decided to give actual celebrating a try. I’ve been giving more attention to personal and family time lately, especially in light of various events in the fall of 2019. I’m all about making every moment count and choosing the path that’s right for me and my family.
So, without any further (somewhat heavy) ado, I give you our New Year’s Eve 2019!
We started off with Countdown Bags which I learned about by chance. When I decided to put in the effort to make New Year’s fun, while still relaxing at home, I turned to Google for ideas. Countdown Bags sounded like exactly what I wanted – something I could do inexpensively, that would give us something to look forward to hour after hour, while trying to reach that magical midnight hour.
Disclaimer: I am not a creative person when it comes to crafts and things to do with and for children. It’s just not in me. But I know what I like to look at and do, and I can do pretty much anything if there are instructions or lists of suggestions. So I started with pretty chalkboard New Year’s printables (you’ll see them below) from Catch My Party and the nifty clocks from The Idea Room.
As for what went into the bags, I hit up the dollar store and grocery store for:
Easy, pre-packaged crafts
A small activity book
Photo booth props
Happy New Year headbands
A shiny silver pen
Other assorted candy
There were other things I wanted to include, but forgot, like slap bracelets and glow necklaces. But, all in all, I kept the purchases to about $20 for 8 fun surprise bags that kept my family curious about what they would find next. I used index cards to write a note in each bag, because some had activities instead of or along with treats.
We started at 5 p.m. by opening the first bag, which had a little activity book to keep my daughter busy while my husband and I made tacos. As a side note, I love the idea of tacos for New Year’s Eve! They’re fun and easy to make, and leave plenty of room for snacky foods, too. Normally, we’d pair them with rice, but we didn’t this time. We decided just the tacos were enough, because I put out some party food after dinner. I think the baby carrots, celery, broccoli, baguette, cheese, crackers, dressing, and sparkling grape juice cost about $20, as well. And this is only a small portion of it. Why spend $20 on a premade, store-bought platter when you can just do it yourself? We had fun walking by the table and picking up munchies throughout the night. I also nagged everyone to keep hydrating with plenty of water. Best way to stay awake and energized!
While my husband was working on the tacos and I had time to spare before putting together the lettuce, cheese, olives, and taco sauce, we put on some 90s music and tried some silly selfies.
Yeah, I’m not wearing makeup, even though I worked a normal day, and I have no idea where my daughter got the random lei that you see me wearing, but who cares? We were home doing our own thing and the party was just beginning.
It was fun to open bag after bag, hour after hour, and see my family’s reactions. They were delighted to find each and every item, especially the photo booth props. I had no idea my husband could be such a ham!
My daughter was all about stroking her new mustache. Well, she’s about to turn 7 a few days after New Year’s, so I guess it was time she grew one! Also, if you like my shirt, I bought it at The Jean Marie Boutique.
We got a kick out of our fortune cookies. My daughter’s fortune was especially appropriate.
I figured everyone would be getting tired by 9 p.m., so that was when we opened the bag that instructed us to choose a family game. It could be anything – good old fashioned charades, Mario Party, Uno. We chose Forbidden Island and it seemed like “Waters Rise” cards were just attracted to me last night. So we lost, but it was fun, as always!
When midnight rolled around, we were all somehow still awake. I don’t know if it was dancing around the house to 90s music from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. that did it, laughing until we cried with the photo props, or all the snacking. But we wore our Happy New Year headbands, blew our noisemakers, and looked outside to see if we could spot the random fireworks people were setting off.
We fell into bed pretty grateful that the time had come. Was it the most “productive” New Year’s Eve of goal-setting and planning? No. Was it fun? Oh, yeah. I would definitely do it all again.